* Hagel often clashed with Republicans on foreign policy

* Sought easing of Cuba sanctions, opposed sanctions on Iran, Libya.

* Nomination expected to be announced on Monday

By Susan Cornwell

WASHINGTON, Jan 6 (Reuters) - From his lonely position as an early Republican critic of the Iraq war, former Nebraska Senator Chuck Hagel sometimes lectured his more timid Senate colleagues. "If you wanted a safe job, go sell shoes," he told them.

Now Democratic President Barack Obama, putting together his team for his second term, is poised to chose the intensely independent thinker to run the Pentagon. If Hagel is confirmed by the Senate, he will have to oversee the withdrawal of U.S. troops from another war zone - Afghanistan - and grapple with spending cuts.

The formal announcement of Hagel's nomination could come as early as Monday, Democratic Party sources said.

A social conservative and strong internationalist who co-chaired John McCain's failed Republican presidential campaign back in 2000, Hagel might seem an unlikely pick for Obama's Secretary of Defense, were it not for his opposition to the Iraq war launched by former President George W. Bush. That war was the issue on which Obama also rose to national prominence.

Four years ago, Obama said Iraq was not the only matter where he held similar views with Hagel, a decorated Vietnam veteran who was also once touted as presidential material.

"He's a staunch Republican, but Chuck and I agree almost on every item of foreign policy," Obama said in August 2008, a month after taking Hagel with him on a tour of Iraq.

Since his name emerged last year as a candidate for the Pentagon, some Republicans contend that Hagel has at times opposed Israel's interests. His critics note he voted against U.S. sanctions on Iran and made disparaging remarks about the influence of what he called a "Jewish lobby" in Washington.

Hagel has also been critical of the size of the American military, telling the Financial Times in 2011 that the Defense Department was "bloated" and needed "to be pared down."

Hagel served two terms in the Senate, representing the state of Nebraska, and left in 2008. He is now a professor at Georgetown University, but also serves as co-chairman of the President's Intelligence Advisory Board and a member of the Secretary of Defense's Policy Board.

Since he left the Senate, Hagel has been a big critic of his own party. He told the Financial Times in 2011 that he was "disgusted" by the "irresponsible actions" of Republicans during the debt-ceiling debate.

In 2012 he endorsed a Democrat candidate for Senate from Nebraska - former Senator Bob Kerrey - instead of Republican Deb Fischer, who won.

Hagel would not be the first Republican to serve Obama as Pentagon chief. Bob Gates, Obama's first defense secretary, was a holdover from the years of Republican President Bush.


AS A SENATOR, CLASHED WITH OTHER REPUBLICANS

While he was in the Senate as a senior member of the Foreign Relations, Banking, and Intelligence Committees, Hagel often clashed with his party's leaders on foreign and defense policy.

He co-sponsored legislation to ease U.S. trade restrictions with Cuba, and voted against trade sanctions on Iran and Libya.

In 2002 Hagel said the U.S. should try to improve relations with the countries Bush had branded an "axis of evil" - Iraq, Iran, and North Korea.

The same year, when Hagel expressed doubts about the Bush administration's buildup to war in Iraq, the conservative Weekly Standard magazine branded him part of an "axis of appeasement." But Hagel did vote to give the president the authority to carry out the March 2003 invasion.

Later Hagel said he regretted that vote and became a persistent critic of the conflict. In January 2007, he was the only Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee to support a non binding measure that criticized Bush's decision to send more troops to Iraq.

Hagel told senators they must take a stand on "the most divisive issue in the country since Vietnam," a war in which he fought, but later decided was wrong. His stance put him at odds with his fellow Republican maverick, McCain, and Hagel was pilloried by other Republicans.

Former Vice President Dick Cheney told Newsweek: "I believe firmly in Ronald Reagan's 11th Commandment: thou shalt not speak ill of a fellow Republican. But it's very hard sometimes to adhere to that where Chuck Hagel is involved."

In 2008, Hagel did not make a public endorsement in the presidential race, but his wife Lilibet endorsed Obama and sat with Obama's wife Michelle during the last presidential debate.

Hagel skipped the 2008 Republican convention to travel to Central and South America. Then he further irked Republicans by telling the Omaha World-Herald newspaper that it was a "stretch" to say McCain's running mate Sarah Palin would be qualified to be president.

He was once considered a contender for the 2008 presidency himself, and there was speculation he would join New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg on an independent ticket. Instead he said in September 2007 that he was dropping out of politics and retiring from the Senate when his term ended in 2008.

Born in 1946, Hagel grew up in Nebraska as the oldest of four boys, and made a fortune by launching a cellphone company in the 1980s. His father was also a military man, a World War II veteran who died of a heart attack when Chuck was 16.

Hagel and his younger brother Tom volunteered for Vietnam, and Hagel saved Tom's life there by pulling him out of a burning vehicle.

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  • Chuck Hagel (February 2013 - Present)

    New Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel is greeted as he arrives for his first day at the Department of Defense, on February 27, 2013 in Arlington, Va. (Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

  • Leon Panetta (July 2011 - February 2013)

    Secretary of Defense Leon E. Panetta pauses while speaking during a ceremonial swearing-in at the Department of Defense July 22, 2011 in Washington. (Source: <a href="http://www.defense.gov/specials/secdef_histories/">Department of Defense</a>)

  • Robert Gates (Dec. 2006 - July 2011)

    Robert Gates speaks during his ceremonial swearing in as the 22nd defense secretary on Dec. 18, 2006 at the Pentagon. (Source: <a href="http://www.defense.gov/specials/secdef_histories/">Department of Defense</a>)

  • Donald Rumsfeld (Jan. 2001 - Dec. 2006)

    U.S. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld holds his press conference at the Pentagon briefing room on Jan. 26, 2001 in Arlington, Va. (Source: <a href="http://www.defense.gov/specials/secdef_histories/">Department of Defense</a>)

  • William Cohen (Jan. 1997 - Jan. 2001)

    Secretary of Defense designate William Cohen testifies during confirmation hearings before the Senate Armed Services Committee on Jan. 22, 1997 in Washington. (Source: <a href="http://www.defense.gov/specials/secdef_histories/">Department of Defense</a>)

  • William Perry (Feb. 1994 - Jan. 1997)

    U.S. Defense Secretary William Perry points to a reporter during a press conference on April 21, 1994 in Seoul, Korea. (Source: <a href="http://www.defense.gov/specials/secdef_histories/">Department of Defense</a>)

  • Les Aspin (Jan. 1993 - Feb. 1994)

    U.S. Secretary of Defense Les Aspin released new regulations governing gays in the military during a press on Dec. 22, 1993 at the Pentagon. (Source: <a href="http://www.defense.gov/specials/secdef_histories/">Department of Defense</a>)

  • Dick Cheney (March 1989 - Jan. 1993)

    U.S. Defense Secretary Dick Cheney (L) meets Egypt's President Hosni Mubarak, on April 3, 1989, at Washington. (Source: <a href="http://www.defense.gov/specials/secdef_histories/">Department of Defense</a>)

  • Frank Carlucci (Nov. 1987 - Jan. 1989)

    U.S. Defense Secretary Frank Carlucci testifies before the Senate Armed Services Committee on July 13, 1988 in Washington. (Source: <a href="http://www.defense.gov/specials/secdef_histories/">Department of Defense</a>)

  • Caspar Weinberger (Jan. 1981 - Nov. 1987)

    Caspar Weinberger, Secretary of Defense on Feb. 9, 1981. (Source: <a href="http://www.defense.gov/specials/secdef_histories/">Department of Defense</a>)

  • Harold Brown (Jan. 1977 - Jan. 1981)

    General Alexander M. Haig, right, retired as NATO commander, walks with Defense Secretary Harold Brown during an awards ceremony on July 3, 1979 at Fort Myer, Va. (Source: <a href="http://www.defense.gov/specials/secdef_histories/">Department of Defense</a>)

  • Donald Rumsfeld (Nov. 1975 - Jan. 1977)

    A 1976 photo of Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld. (Source: <a href="http://www.defense.gov/specials/secdef_histories/">Department of Defense</a>)

  • James Schlesinger (July 1973 - Nov. 1975)

    Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Dayan, left, with Secretary of Defense James R. Schlesinger, chats on Friday, Jan. 5, 1974 at the Pentagon. (Source: <a href="http://www.defense.gov/specials/secdef_histories/">Department of Defense</a>)

  • Elliot Richardson (Jan. 1973 - May 1973)

    Elliot L. Richardson speaks to newsmen Oct. 23, 1973 at a press conference held at the Department of Justice. (Source: <a href="http://www.defense.gov/specials/secdef_histories/">Department of Defense</a>)

  • Melvin Laird (Jan. 1969 - Jan. 1973)

    Secretary of Defense Melvin R. Laird as he departed from Andrews Air Force Base Md., for Paris on Jan. 5, 1971 in Washington. (Source: <a href="http://www.defense.gov/specials/secdef_histories/">Department of Defense</a>)

  • Clark Clifford (March 1968 - Jan. 1969)

    This is an Oct. 1968 photo of Secretary of Defense Clark Clifford as he announces his support for President Johnson's decision to halt the bombing of North Vietnam. (Source: <a href="http://www.defense.gov/specials/secdef_histories/">Department of Defense</a>)

  • Robert McNamara (Jan. 1961 - Feb. 1968)

    PARIS, FRANCE: US Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara smiles as he arrives 27 November 1965 at Paris' NATO headquarters. (Source: <a href="http://www.defense.gov/specials/secdef_histories/">Department of Defense</a>)

  • Thomas Gates (Dec. 1959 - Jan. 1961)

    Secretary of Defense Thomas S. Gates Jr., center, poses with Benjamin M. McKelway, left, editor of the Washington Evening Star and President of the AP, and AP General Manager Frank J. Starzel at the April 25, 1960 meeting of the Associated Press in New York. (Source: <a href="http://www.defense.gov/specials/secdef_histories/">Department of Defense</a>)

  • Neil McElroy (Oct. 1957 - Dec. 1959)

    Defense Secretary Neil McElroy said he has "fullest confidence that the United States is ahead of the Soviets..." prior to the announcement of the Soviet's achievement in launching the first earth satellite, Oct. 4, 1958. (Source: <a href="http://www.defense.gov/specials/secdef_histories/">Department of Defense</a>)

  • Charles Wilson (Jan. 1953 - Oct. 1957)

    Charles E. Wilson, left, takes the oath of office from Chief Justice Fred Vinson at the White House in Washington on Dec. 21, 1950 as head of the office of Defense Mobilization. (Source: <a href="http://www.defense.gov/specials/secdef_histories/">Department of Defense</a>)

  • Robert Lovett (Sept. 1951 - Jan. 1953)

    Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower (right) watches President Harry S. Truman and Gen. Omar Bradley help Defense Secretary Robert Lovett (left) get in place as the men posed on the south lawn of the White House on June 1, 1952 in Washington. (Source: <a href="http://www.defense.gov/specials/secdef_histories/">Department of Defense</a>)

  • George Marshall (Sept. 1950 - Sept. 1951)

    Anna M. Rosenberg, New York Labor and Public Relations consultant, who is named assistant secretary of defense, chats with Secretary of Defense George Marshall in a conference at the Pentagon on Nov. 9, 1950 in Arlington, Va. (Source: <a href="http://www.defense.gov/specials/secdef_histories/">Department of Defense</a>)

  • Louis Johnson (March 1949 - Sept. 1950)

    Defense Secretary Louis Johnson (right) gives new identification card to President Harry Truman at the White House on Nov. 9, 1949 in Washington, listing him as commander in chief for an "indefinite" term. (Source: <a href="http://www.defense.gov/specials/secdef_histories/">Department of Defense</a>)

  • James Forrestal (Sept. 1947 - March 1949)

    James V. Forrestal, Secretary of Defense under President Harry Truman, is shown on July 26, 1947. (Source: <a href="http://www.defense.gov/specials/secdef_histories/">Department of Defense</a>)