Advise and consent: Obama's choices deserve tough Senate questioning
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Barack Obama's nominations of Chuck Hagel as secretary of defense and John O. Brennan as director of the CIA, on top of his previous choice of John Kerry as secretary of state, have put the president well on his way toward forming the top national security team for his second term.
There remains his choice for secretary of the treasury, in place of Tim Geithner, to fill out the roster on the economics side.
Both of Monday's nominees have the president's confidence, a key element in their ability to do the job. Mr. Obama respected highly and worked closely with Mr. Hagel, previously a Republican senator from Nebraska, when the president was a senator from Illinois. Mr. Obama also has esteem for Mr. Hagel's background as a twice-wounded, decorated non-commissioned officer in the Vietnam War, with its implied emphasis on the well-being and concerns of soldiers with more recent service in Iraq and Afghanistan.
It is also significant that Mr. Obama would choose for such a key position a Republican, suggesting that he has never given up on the possibility of good working relations with the opposing party in Congress, in spite of all the hissing that accompanies bipartisan efforts to resolve the nation's problems.
Mr. Obama also has the full measure of Mr. Brennan, from his service as deputy national security adviser for homeland security and counterterrorism for the past four years, and sees him as an appropriate successor at the CIA for retired Gen. David H. Petraeus, who stepped down in November after revelation of an extramarital affair.
Both nominees will face vigorous questioning from senators in their confirmation hearings, as well they should. In Mr. Hagel's case, critics have focused already on remarks he made or votes he cast as a Nebraska senator, on the nomination of a gay ambassador, characterization of the Israel lobby, sanctions on Iran and a surge in troop levels in Iraq. He probably also picked up a few enemies in the Senate, although recent criticism of him by Republican Sen. John McCain of Arizona contrasts sharply with Mr. McCain's previous characterization of Mr. Hagel as someone he would be honored to work with "in any capacity."
Mr. Brennan draws fire from critics for his positions on the CIA practice of rendition, handing prisoners over to foreign powers to interrogate through torture, and on America's expanding use of unmanned drones to eliminate U.S. enemies in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Somalia and Yemen, sometimes killing or wounding innocent people in the process.
Mr. Hagel and Mr. Brennan should be questioned sharply at their hearings to address senators' reservations about them. In the end, however, unless disqualifying information is revealed, President Obama should be allowed to field the team he has chosen to help him govern the country.
First Published January 9, 2013 12:00 am