Washington Secrets

Chuck Hagel friends try to save his Pentagon nomination

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Politics,Paul Bedard,Washington Secrets,The Pentagon,Chuck Hagel

Allies of former Republican Sen. Chuck Hagel, who's seen his chances of being nominated Pentagon chief dwindle amid claims he's anti-Israel, anti-gay and a foe of military force in Iran, are mounting an aggressive campaign to get him the post, arguing that his credentials and service in Vietnam make him a rare "soldier" to lead the Defense Department.

Fellow former Virginia Sen. John Warner, an ex-Navy secretary, told Secrets, "Chuck Hagel's strength naturally brings a certain amount of criticism." But, he added, "He's a soldier's soldier and uniquely qualified to maintain confidence and morale among the troops."

Fellow Vietnam War vet Jan Scruggs, president of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund, added, "He has actual experience in combat and an interest in military affairs and diplomacy. His wounds from Vietnam are a reminder of the cost of war."

Obama had indicated he wanted Hagel to replace outgoing defense chief Leon Panetta. But he immediately came under from the right for past comments on Israel and opposition to fighting Iran, and from the left for comments made in 1998 that a Clinton ambassadorial pick was "aggressively gay." Obama has held up the nomination.

Hagel's supporters, including two past White House national security advisors, senators and generals, are mounting a letter-writing campaign and making personal contacts in the administration and Senate to bolster his chances--and win Obama's endorsement.

"There is an effort by many prominent individuals who, like me, are happy to volunteer their time and expertise to help a competent person become secretary of defense," Scruggs said.

Noting the wave of anti-Hagel stories and attacks, Warner added that the goal of the pro-Hagel effort is to state his case, especially since tradition holds that potential nominees aren't allowed to campaign for the job they might get. "Let's make it fair. Let's make it objective," said Warner.

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