When Should Military Leaders Speak Out?

Retired Marine Gen. Joe Hoar discusses his views of the conflict between military and civilian leaders. Hoar was the commander of Central Command, the U.S. military overseer for the Middle East, in the early 1990s. Hoar has been publicly critical of the planning in the Iraq war.


We're joined now by retired Marine Corps General Joseph Hoar. In the early '90s, he was commander of Central Command. That's the U.S. military overseer for the Middle East, including Iraq. He's been highly critical of war planning in testimony before Congress and in opinion pieces for newspapers. General Hoar, welcome to DAY TO DAY.

General JOSEPH HOAR (U.S. Marine Corps, Retired): Thank you, Alex.

CHADWICK: Does it seem to you something is going on with information coming out about what the senior military leadership wants, seemingly contrary to what Mr. Bush wants?

Gen. HOAR: I don't think there's any doubt about it. I think the problem has been clearly in the government on the civilian side that has been deceived in the run-up to the war. There's been gross mismanagement of military assets during the war, and a shocking lack of understanding of the political and cultural realities in that part of the world. It's just amazing to me that there hasn't been more discomfort on the part of senior military, and I must say senior civilians as well, that are not political appointees.

CHADWICK: I don't recall statements coming out of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, albeit unattributed but clearly leaking out of there, saying this is what we think the military should be doing in the next year, two years, and it's contrary to what the civilians want, it's contrary to what the president wants.

Gen. HOAR: I don't either. I think it's high time that the senior military people start to speak out. The civilian leadership, both elected and appointed, have responsibility for policies. The question that I would ask is, what is the responsibility of the senior military when you know these people are making bad decisions? Here we are today with 3700 Americans killed and about 25,000 wounded. I think that constitutes a moral responsibility to speak out.

CHADWICK: We just heard Michael Desch conclude his interview with Alex Cohen, saying how do officers know what to do; it's not always a black and white decision.

Gen. HOAR: Well, the trouble is, is this issue is rarely raised in the more senior educational institutions within the military. As young officers we're all told to argue vigorously with your boss until a decision is made. Once the decision is made, your responsibility is to carry out the mission as stated by your boss. I think that works very well for lieutenants and captains on the ground in combat. I think when you're a three-star or a four-star in Washington or in a combatant command, you have a higher responsibility. After all, our oath is to the Constitution. It's not to the president or the executive branch.

CHADWICK: The institution, General, military service, it isn't like a job, is it? I mean in some way it's a calling. It means something very fundamental to the people who are in it. How do you feel about this institution and what it's going through?

Gen. HOAR: Well, I think you've characterized it correctly, Alex. Many of us, particularly people that have spent most of our adult lives in it, think of it as a calling. Certainly people that go and literally spend years away from their family in the combat missions, or the requirements aboard ship, or in places like Korea, or Japan, that's more than a job. You're certainly not financially remunerated for the hardships and the difficulties visited on you and your family, not to mention the danger.

CHADWICK: So how do you feel when you see something like this going on, which I would characterize as a change in the way senior military officers deal with civilian leadership?

Gen. HOAR: I think it's too bad that it's taken so long. I think that it's the right thing. I also believe that there are several ways to get this kind of information out if you disagree with the policy. One of the ones that I know that the United States Congress would like to see happen is for senior officers to be more candid when they are on the Hill testifying.

Certainly one of the ways that that can happen and make it pretty easy on the senior officer is to let the members of the committee know that if a certain line of reasoning were pursued, they might uncover some interesting information. Frequently the questions that are asked of senior military people in Congressional hearings are very generalized and don't get down to the nub of the issues.

CHADWICK: General Hoar, retired Marine Corps general, thank you very much, sir.

Gen. HOAR: Thank you, Alex.

Copyright © 2007 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at www.npr.org for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by a contractor for NPR, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio.



Please keep your community civil. All comments must follow the NPR.org Community rules and terms of use, and will be moderated prior to posting. NPR reserves the right to use the comments we receive, in whole or in part, and to use the commenter's name and location, in any medium. See also the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Community FAQ.