United States President Barack Obama on Monday named former Republican Senator Chuck Hagel as his next defence secretary, and also nominated his counter-terrorism adviser John Brennan, who was involved in the planning of the 2011 raid that killed Osama bin Laden in Pakistan, as the new Central Intelligence Agency chief.
Obama, while nominating Hagel, praised his "willingness to speak his mind" and said that Hagel "understands that America stands strongest when we stand with allies and with friends."
If confirmed by the Senate, 66-year-old Hagel would replace, Defence Secretary Leon Panetta. Brennan, a former CIA analyst and CIA station head in Saudi Arabia before he joined the 2008 Obama Campaign and then his administration, would replace Gen (rtd) David Petraeus, who resigned last year citing extra-marital affairs.
Obama, while nominating Brennan as the new director of the CIA, praised him, saying, "John is legendary even in the White House."
With Monday's announcement, Obama has made three top nominations to his national security team. Before Christmas, Obama had nominated Senator John Kerry, Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, as his next Secretary of State, to replace Hillary Clinton.
In his capacity as the defence secretary, Hagel would not only have to face the challenge of budgetary cuts, but also end the war in Afghanistan, and play an important role in Asia-Pacific defence posture of the US.
Currently chairperson of the president's Intelligence Advisory Board Incumbent, Hagel is familiar with the ground realties of South Asia.
As Nebraska Senator for two terms from 1997 to 2009, Hagel was member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, frequently travelled to South Asia and voted in favour of the historic India-US civilian nuclear deal.
"I think strategically it represents one of the most thoughtful new approaches to foreign policy in maybe 25 years," Hagel told reporters in New Delhi during his trip to India in April 2006.
Soon Hagel was in Islamabad to address the concerns of Pakistani leadership with regard to the nuclear deal.
"Our common interests go beyond the nuclear agreement. We need to be partners and stay engaged," Hagel had said.
The US views its relationship with India much beyond the civil nuclear agreement and Dr Singh emphasised the incredible importance of it, he told reporters after the delegation met Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.
Brennan, who is currently the Deputy National Security Adviser for Homeland Security and Counter terrorism, served for decades at the CIA as its analyst and its Saudi Arabia Station Chief. Since 9/11, he has been on the front lines in the fight against Al Qaeda.
Over the past four years, he has been involved in virtually all major national security issues and will be able to hit the ground running at CIA.
"Brennan has the full trust and confidence of the president. For four years, he has seen the president every day, and been by his side for some of his toughest decisions, including the decision to launch the bin Laden raid. Brennan is as close to President Obama as any member of his national security team," Politico said.
Image: US President Obama announces his nominees for a new Secretary of Defence Hagel and new CIA director Brennan at the White House
Photograph: Kevin Lamarque/Reuters