Criticism of Rumsfeld Sparks Debate in Military

Retired military personnel are speaking publicly about their disapproval of Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld. Two lifelong military men talk about their different views on whether retired high-ranking officers should take on the role of public critic.

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Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld is facing a barrage of criticism from retired generals, who have publicly criticized his handling of the Iraq War and called for his ouster. Their decision to step forward has sparked soul searching among both active duty and retired officers.

We have two stories now, where retired military weigh in. First, NPR's Tom Bowman has this report on two retired generals on opposite sides of the debate.

TOM BOWMAN reporting:

Jack Keane and Joe Hoar, each served in uniform for more than three decades. They fought in Vietnam, and eventually reached the top of their profession. Keane was vice chief of staff of the Army, and Hoar commanded all U.S. forces in the Middle East. But on the question of Rumsfeld's fate, the two old warriors part company.

Hoar says Rumsfeld should go. The defense secretary failed to send enough American troops to Iraq, disbanded the Iraqi army, and arrogantly dismisses advice from military officers.

Mr. JOE HOAR (Retired General, United States Army): I think all of this has to be, in part, directed directly at Mr. Rumsfeld.

BOWMAN: Hoar says active duty officers can't make such statements. They have two choices: salute or resign.

Mr. HOAR: The obvious fact is, that someone that's on active duty cannot speak out and stay on. I think that those of us that are in the retired community have a very different role to play.

BOWMAN: For his part, Keane says it's unseemly for generals in retirement to tell a president to fire a defense secretary. He fears that the one-time senior officers will become just another Washington pressure group. Generals and admirals hold a special place within American society, as professionals who are above politics. Now, says Keane, they are in danger of losing that lofty spot.

Mr. JACK KEANE (Retired General, United States Army): They have a right to speak. But I just think it's inappropriate for us to, as retired generals, to be speaking out where the purpose of the speaking is to really remove a senior cabinet official who has been appointed by a duly elected president.

BOWMAN: Both active duty and retired officers are now taking sides in this debate. The generals that have targeted Rumsfeld are receiving e-mails and phone calls, offering both praise and alarm. Hoar says the generals are well within their rights to speak out, and he recalls little complaint over the past decade when retired military officers came out in support of political candidates.

Mr. HOAR: I think it's interesting that, beginning perhaps 12 or 16 years ago, retired generals and admirals started actively supporting individuals that were running for the presidency.

BOWMAN: Since the nine generals have called for Rumsfeld's removal, other retired officers have also come forward to make the opposite case. Among them, Richard Myers, who just stepped down as chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and Mike DeLong, who was a three-star Marine general deeply involved in planning for the Iraq War.

Four other retired officers wrote an opinion piece in the Wall Street Journal saying Rumsfeld was, "one of the most effective secretaries of defense our nation has ever had."

Tom Bowman, NPR News, Washington.

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