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Hagel likely to be confirmed as next U.S. defense chief despite GOP lashing

By Matthew Rusling (Xinhua)

09:25, February 04, 2013

WASHINGTON, Feb. 3 (Xinhua) -- U.S. Defense Secretary nominee Chuck Hagel will likely be confirmed despite taking a flogging from Republicans in recent days -- quite a few political figures and experts believe so.

Hagel, a decorated Vietnam War veteran and a former Republican senator, has been derided by GOP lawmakers for being too dovish on hot-button issues such as Iran, as he has opposed U.S.-led sanctions on the Islamic Republic. He has also stirred the ire of former Senate colleague and 2008 presidential contender John McCain for opposing the 2007 troop surge in Iraq.

The nominee took a tongue lashing on Thursday at a Senate hearing -- the Senate is tasked with confirming or rejecting him -- but former Democratic senator Evan Bayh said his confirmation is still likely.

"At the end of the day ... he (Hagel)'s going to be confirmed as Secretary of Defense," Bayh said on Fox News on Sunday, adding that there's a strong presumption among the Senate that presidents should choose their own cabinet, although some GOP lawmakers will still vote "No."

He echoed the arguments of some political experts who contended that Hagel's rejection is unlikely.

Critics blasted Hagel for Thursday's sub-par performance at the Senate hearing, pointing out that the nominee seemed grossly uninformed on U.S. military and foreign policies.

Appearing on the same show, radio pundit Laura Ingraham said Hagel's performance "could have been the worst" one that ever took place at a confirmation hearing, adding that it was "shocking" and that Hagel seemed "completely out of his depth."

However, Bayh echoed the voice of other supporters who maintained that Hagel's being unprepared for the hearing does not reflect on his competence as a potential defense chief.

Speaking on Sunday's NBC talk show "Meet the Press," New York Times columnist David Brooks questioned whether President Barack Obama would have confidence in the nominee, based on his showing at the Senate hearing.

But U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff General Martin Dempsey told " Meet the Press" that in his conversations with the nominee, the latter had shown an understanding of the issues.

Obama campaign advisor and former White House spokesman Robert Gibbs underscored Hagel's experience as an infantryman, asserting that he would fare well as a defense secretary.

Critics contended Hagel's nomination bucks the trend of second- term presidents who usually nominate a figure from the opposing camp to demonstrate a move toward the center, adding that Hagel is a reflection of President Obama's left-of-center goals outlined in his inauguration speech.

They also blasted Hagel for his stance on Israel, and on budget cuts that may weaken the world's most powerful military.

Kevin Madden, former campaign advisor for Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney, who lost the election in November to Obama, told Fox News on Sunday that the GOP is likely to use Hagel's confirmation as a vehicle to express opposition to Obama's foreign policy.

Leon Panetta, the outgoing U.S. defense secretary, told NBC's " Meet the Press" on Sunday that he was disappointed that the Senate hearing on Hagel's nomination focused so much on his past statements on Iran, Israel and other matters, instead of on today' s challenges the United States faces, such as the war in Afghanistan, the fight against terrorism, and the budget cuts.

Panetta slammed the Republicans for playing politics on Hagel's nomination. "It's pretty obvious that the political knives were out for Chuck Hagel," he observed.

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