Donald Lambro

WASHINGTON - President Obama's is putting together a new national security team at the Pentagon and the CIA that is said to be designed for an era of downsizing.

That may be one of the most troubling issues with the two men he's nominated, former senator Charles Hagel to be Defense secretary, and White House counterterrorism adviser John Brennan to head the Central Intelligence Agency -- though both carry other baggage that's also being raised by their critics.

Hagel initially backed the war in Iraq, then became its fiercest critic, even against the troop surge strategy that turned the tide against al-Qaeda. Then came his insulting, anti-Israel lobby remarks that many perceived to be anti-Semitic.

And Brennan, a 25-year CIA veteran, who played a key role in its, ahem, enhanced interrogation techniques in the aftermath of the September 11 terrorist attacks. Since then he's voiced concern about the CIA's expanded and wildly successful paramilitary mission that has led to the stepped up use of armed drones.

Hagel is now being described by the Washington Post as "a well-known war skeptic", and someone who "shares Obama's aversion to military intervention." This, in an age when global terrorism and rogue nations remain two of the greatest threats to our national security. What signal does that send?

Absent some new unseen developments, both men are expected to survive the Senate's confirmation gantlet. But the process to come will no doubt reopen political wounds and raise serious questions about whether these two men are best suited to lead our nation's most important national security agencies.

Hagel will necessarily be put through the wringer over his past attacks on what he called the "Jewish lobby" and the influence pro-Israeli groups often exert on Congress. In an interview with author Aaron David Miller in 2008, he said "the Jewish lobby intimidates a lot of people up here."

His troubling antipathy toward America's pro-Israel lobby, which he insists on calling the "Jewish lobby," has crept into his remarks in the past, one way or another.

"The declaration from Hagel that he is not 'the senator from Israel' is again a direct attack on Jews' fidelity to the United States," says Washington Post "Right Turn" blogger Jennifer Rubin.

"For decades this kind of language has been gaining acceptance in Europe. But never in America. In elevating Hagel, the president in a real and troubling way moves us closer to Western Europe," Rubin wrote this week.


Donald Lambro

Donald Lambro is chief political correspondent for The Washington Times.