US President Barack Obama has nominated former senator Chuck Hagel as his next defense secretary and tapped his chief counterterrorism adviser John Brennan to lead the Central Inteligence Agency (CIA).
Obama chose Hagel on Monday to replace Leon Panetta at the Pentagon for his second-term, despite political uproar over the nomination.
Obama said at a press conference in White House that Hagel, an outspoken critic of Israel, is "the leader our troops deserve,” praising his “willingness to speak his mind."
The US President called the former Nebraska senator "an American patriot," who earned "respect of national security and military leaders, Republicans and Democrats, including me."
"In the Senate, I came to admire his courage, his judgment, his willingness to speak his mind, even if it wasn't popular, even if it defied conventional wisdom," Obama said. "That's exactly the spirit I want on my national security team," he added.
Hagel left the Senate in 2008. He sometimes spoke against Israel, voted against sanctions on Iran, and even made blunt comments about the influence of the "Jewish lobby" in Washington.
The 66-year-old was the first Republican senator to publicly criticize the war in Iraq, calling it the worst foreign policy blunder since the Vietnam War, and has consistently opposed any plan to launch a military strike against Iran.
Also on Monday, Obama picked Brennan as the new director of the CIA, considering him as one of the most skilled and experienced people in counterterrorism.
Brennan, a 25-year CIA veteran, will succeed retired general David Petraeus, who resigned from his post due to a scandal over an extramarital affair with his biographer, Paula Broadwell, on November 10, 2012.
Brennan was under Obama’s consideration for the top CIA position in 2008. However, he refused to take the job amid questions about his links to enhanced interrogation tactics during his service in the CIA under former President George W. Bush.