US & Canada

Cruising for a bruising?

The president has set himself up for another bruising fight with Congress.

He is already going to clash with lawmakers over the debt ceiling and spending. He has signalled he won't dodge a confrontation over guns and immigration. Now, his choice of two new cabinet members will mean a couple of fractious confirmation hearings.

The man he wants as defence secretary, Chuck Hagel, faces a real risk of being given the thumbs down and will certainly get a rough ride.

A decorated Vietnam veteran, he has an aversion to war and a view of Israel that falls short of what many Republicans demand.

Not that Mr Obama's pick for CIA director, John Brennan, will be uncontroversial.

He has been the president's main man on national security since 2008 and is a CIA veteran of 25 years so no-one doubts he knows his way around.

But liberals say he was too close to George W Bush's administration - particularly the faulty intelligence that led to the Iraq war and the torture of terrorist suspects.

But any trouble he has will be minor compared to Mr Hagel.

The former Republican senator is a renegade to many in his own party. He broke with them over the Iraq war. He has been accused of anti-Semitism for saying that: "the Jewish lobby intimidates a lot of people up here, [Congress]. I'm a United States senator. I'm not an Israeli senator."

He has been reluctant about sanctions on Iran and labelling Hamas a terrorist group. Opponents say he is "anti-Israel".

Supporters say he has not anti-Israel, he just does not slavishly back the current right-wing government's policies.

If that wasn't enough, he is in trouble from the other side for anti-gay comments, for which he has apologised.

Perhaps more significant than all of this, he would be a very reluctant war leader, on record as saying, in 2006, that taking military action against Iran "is not a viable, feasible, responsible option".

In 2002, talking about Iraq, he said: "Many of those who want to rush the country into war and think it would be so quick and easy don't know anything about war. They come at it from an intellectual perspective versus having sat in jungles or foxholes and watched their friends get their heads blown off. I try to speak for those ghosts of the past a little bit".

There is a lot for antagonistic senators to chew on, in an atmosphere where some are determined to block the president whenever they can.

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