U.S. President Barack Obama named Chuck Hagel on Monday to lead the Pentagon, setting up an ugly confirmation battle as Republican opponents said he was too hard on Israel and too soft on Iran.
Obama's choice of John Brennan to replace scandal-tainted David Petraeus as CIA chief was seen as more straightforward despite the counterterrorism czar's defense of "enhanced interrogation techniques" and the U.S. drone war.
The second term revamp of the president's national security team was expected to eventually win approval but several leading Republicans signaled they would make it tough for Hagel even though he is one of their own.
Obama paid particular tribute to retiring Pentagon chief Leon Panetta before giving ringing endorsements to the "outstanding" Hagel and Brennan and urging the Senate not to dally in confirming the important appointments.
"Chuck Hagel is the leader that our troops deserve. He is an American patriot," the president said, heaping praise on a war hero whose wounds earned him two Purple Heart medals as a soldier in Vietnam.
Hagel was also awarded the Army Commendation medal and the Vietnamese Cross of Gallantry, the latter from the former South Vietnamese government, for his bravery while serving in the war.
Some Republicans have never forgiven him for his outspoken criticism of ex-president George W. Bush's handling of the Iraq war, and his closeness to the Democratic president has seen him branded as a traitor by others.
But Obama, who wants to be remembered as a leader who ended wars abroad to set about the tricky task of building at home following a crippling recession, described Hagel as someone perfectly fitted to that mold.AFP