McCain: "Significant questions" about Obama's Cabinet picks


(CBS News) Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., at this point would not vote for or against his friend and 2000 presidential campaign chair, former Sen. Chuck Hagel, R-Neb., to replace Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, citing "significant questions" that remain for Hagel to answer during his Senate confirmation hearing.

"I honored Chuck Hagel's service. He's a friend," McCain said today on "Face the Nation." "My questions about him - and they will be raised in the nominations - are, what is his view of America's role in the world? Whether he really believes that the surge was the worst blunder since the Vietnam War. That clearly is not correct; in fact, it's bizarre. Why would he oppose calling the Iranian revolutionary guard a terrorist organization? [It's the] same outfit that's on the ground now in Syria killing Syrians, same outfit that was exploiting the most lethal IEDs into Iraq killing Americans.

"So these are legitimate questions that need to be asked," he continued. "I honor his service. We are friends, but I have an obligation to the men and women who are now serving in uniform."

The president's nomination of Hagel, a Vietnam War veteran, has attracted strong opposition, mostly from Republicans and the pro-Israel lobby. During his two Senate terms, Hagel branded himself a maverick, loudly criticizing the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, calling for U.S. negotiations with the Palestinian organization Hamas and voting against some Iran sanctions. Hagel is also known as a rebel within his party: After co-chairing McCain's unsuccessful bid for the 2000 GOP presidential nomination, he turned around in 2008 and endorsed Mr. Obama.

McCain expressed some concerns, too, about the nomination of John Brennan as CIA director, including discrepancies in his opinion on torture, and his potential role in leaks following the takeout of Osama bin Laden. Along with Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., McCain offered one of the most vocal criticisms of Mr. Obama's first choice to replace Secretary of State Hillary Clinton - U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice, who ultimately removed her name from consideration.

Appearing on the program following McCain, Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., agreed there are "serious questions" for Hagel to answer, but noted that as governor, he always appreciated "when the Senate gave me the respect of basically putting my staff together." Manchin said while he doesn't personally know Hagel, he is scheduled to meet with him next week - "a very interesting conversation I look forward to having."

"I want to sit down and get his view points on Israel, our greatest ally," Manchin said. "I want to see... why he chose to oppose the Iraq War, which I think was a wise choice now that we know all the conditions. Also Iran - I believe the sanctions in Iran are working and can even work further without going in and having a land war there. And Afghanistan. I believe that he believes, as I do, that there's not going to be any changes that we're going to significantly make there no matter how long we are there."

On the subject of Afghanistan, Manchin said he backs the White House's push to remove all U.S. troops from Afghanistan - "the sooner the better," but added he would also support drone strikes in Pakistan to dissipate havens for terrorist organizations like al Qaeda.

But pointing to the turmoil in Iraq and Syria, McCain argued a complete withdrawal from Afghanistan would lead to gradual "unraveling."

"I think there is a very, very grave risk now that with the president's announcement that they are basically going to be out, that the Afghans will not be able to effectively counter what still remains a significant Taliban and significantly discordant situation in both Afghanistan and across the border in Pakistan," McCain said. "There's only one Afghan brigade that is capable of acting independently. These forces need air support, intelligence, all the kind of logistics and other support that is necessary to be effective fighting forces."

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