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Our View: Defense chief

Updated: February 27, 2013 6:14AM

The next defense secretary must manage an uncertain world in which the United States is leaving Afghanistan and faces challenges from Iran, North Korea and elsewhere. At the same time, significant cuts in Pentagon spending seem unavoidable.

It’s a big job, one in which it does not hurt to understand, firsthand, the limits and horrors of war. We believe the selection of former Nebraska Sen. Chuck Hagel to be the next defense secretary is that candidate.

A number of Republicans — and we hope Highland Park’s Mark Kirk isn’t among them — don’t care for Hagel being nominated by President Obama. But they need to offer more evidence than we’ve seen so far, facts that show he’s not fit for the job. It isn’t enough to suggest he’s not the candidate they prefer. It’s not Obama’s duty to name the person Senate Republicans would pick on their own. The president deserves to have someone he feels he can rely.

Some senators aren’t happy that Hagel opposed the Iraq War. But history shows he was right. He also criticized President George W. Bush’s Patriot Act and warrantless wiretaps. Hagel also has voiced doubts about a military strike by either the United States or Israel against Iran, and as a senator, he voted against unilateral economic sanctions on Iran. But those are hardly crazy views, and he supports the joint international penalties that Obama has imposed. He has said he would support the president’s policies in other areas as well.

Hagel who served two terms as a Republican senator from Nebraska, is a Vietnam War veteran who was twice awarded the Purple Heart while an Army infantry buck sergeant. He was a member of the Foreign Relations and Intelligence committees, and he would be the first enlisted combat veteran to be defense secretary.

Democrats have enough votes in the Senate to confirm Hagel, but they need at least five Republicans to avoid a filibuster under current rules. On Jan. 31, the Senate Armed Services Committee will hold a confirmation hearing on Hagel’s nomination to replace Leon Panetta as Pentagon chief. The committee, and the full Senate, should vote in favor.

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