U.S. Sen. Mazie Hirono, who was appointed to the Armed Services Committee at the start of the new session of Congress, has thrown her support behind former Nebraska Sen. Chuck Hagel to become the next secretary of defense.
"He is a person who is a Vietnam veteran, and he has a strong record of supporting our troops, supporting the military, supporting our veterans," Hirono said. "He has a Purple Heart, and I think he has the kind of breadth of experience that would make him the kind of secretary of defense that I would look for."
Hagel, who served two terms as a Republican senator, has received criticism from some groups on the right and left for his past views on Iran, Israel, nuclear disarmament and gays. A confirmation hearing is scheduled before the Senate Armed Services Committee on Thursday.
Hagel has been making the rounds with members of Congress, and Hirono, a Hawaii Democrat, said she met with Hagel in her office Thursday for 45 minutes.
If confirmed, Hagel would oversee a military drawdown following the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan at a time of increasing budget constraints.
Hirono said Hagel asked questions, and that he listens — traits she said would be valuable before committing troops to places where there might be unintended consequences.
"I do support him because we had a far-ranging — as far as I'm concerned — talk about where he sees Hawaii in the scheme of things and the strategic importance of Hawaii to our national security," she said.
Military cuts are coming and Hawaii is not immune, but Hirono said "as a member of the Armed Services Committee, I will do everything I can to emphasize the strategic importance of Hawaii."
During their meeting Hagel "confirmed the importance of Hawaii in this regard," the senator said.
Hagel received bipartisan support Thursday from 13 national security experts, including former Defense Secretary Robert Gates and former Secretary of State Colin Powell.
The group said Hagel's approach to national security and the use of American power "is marked by a disciplined habit of thoughtfulness that is sorely needed, and these qualities will serve him well as secretary of defense at a time when the United States must address a range of international issues that are unprecedented in scope."