Dr. Don M. Snider of the Army’s Strategic Studies Institute recently proposed a solution to a source of controversy over the last few years–the problems presented by retired flag and general officers commenting on official policies. The crux of the issue, in Dr. Snider’s mind, is this:

But it is not just the American people that the leaders of military professions serve. Under the long-standing norms of our civil-military relations, they also serve the civilian leaders elected or appointed over them, and they serve those officers and soldiers below them within the ranks. In particular, it is the younger professionals who watch so carefully and take their cues from their respected senior leaders, even after their retirement.

I see a key problem in this argument–none of these officers ever took an oath to serve elected or appointed individuals; they took an oath to support and defend the Constution. Personal and organizational loyalty is important, to be sure, but there’s a reason “U.S.” comes before “Navy” in this organization. And, to be honest, in my 22+ years in uniform I’ve never heard anyone say, “I’m not going to support or execute this policy because Gen. Smith (Ret.) doesn’t like it”, so I’m not convinced the effect of a retired officer speaking out has much day-to-day effect on the devotion to duty of those currently serving.

To get back to Dr. Snider’s points, what he is proposing is for retired three- and four-star officers to voluntarily register their affiliations and political connections so listeners can better judge the things these retired officers say. While the plan is workable, I have doubts about whether anything would be revealed any good journalist (or blogger, for that matter) could dig up.

What say you?

Posted by Chris van Avery in Navy, Policy

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  • I say Dr. Snider needs to read the First Amendment.

  • I agree with Eagle1

  • FOD Detector

    Wow, did you miss the point.

    Dr. Snider is primarily worried about a retired flag using his service experience to promote his own financial interests. IOW, a guy like McCaffrey going on CNN and explaining the US Army needs to buy more [insert favorite program] without revealing he is acting as [favorite program’s] paid marketeer.

    Could this info be dug up by journalists or bloggers? Maybe–but I doubt it. A very high-profile McCaffery slipped under the radar for quite a while. Even so, many folks simply don’t pay attention.
    They hear somebody with MGEN (Ret) or VADM (Ret) after his name and figure whatever he says reflects the true needs of the service.

  • Michael

    Good idea. Could we add every Hollywood celebrity into this mix as well?

  • If Dr. Snider’s point is all about preventing financial conflicts of interest, why this comment?

    This is the second time this vexing problem has arisen recently, the other being known in 2006 as “the revolt of the generals” when a group of more junior retired generals, several Army, went public with their criticisms of Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld. While not effective in their attempt to bring down the Secretary of Defense, their actions—largely outside long-standing Army norms—did result is much angst, anger, and mistrust from the junior professionals they had formerly led in combat.

  • FOD Detector

    YS: The very next para:

    But in the very public persona of General McCaffrey, the issue is now more clearly focused and localized to its essence of conflicting loyalties.

  • UltimaRatioReg


    You hit the nail on the head. This is not about RADM/MGEN So-and-so going on CNN as a Military analyst and plugging a DoD project they have a financial interest in.

    The “Revolt of the Generals” left a bad taste in a lot of mouths, my own included. Not that I am a Rumsfeld fan, not by a long shot. There is a professional obligation to understand what is good for the service one has served and to try and uphold that, even in retirement.

    However, to begin down the road of advocating legislation or other requirements to “disclose” the interests one has in expressing an opinion is a very slippery slope. This is a very serious potential challenge to the First Amendment.

    I am not sure the situation we face today is entirely different from that which has existed since the founding of the nation. Retired senior officers of all services have used the achievement of high rank as a means to further personal, political, and professional interests both inside and outside of military service.

  • There is nothing “that needs to be done” about retired officers speaking out. Once retired, they have just as much right as any other American to speak their mind.

    Seems to me that people want to have it both ways. Retired Gen Keane is given a lot of credit for undermining then current active duty leadership in advocating for the surge. That, people seem to find OK. 8+ Retired flag officers speaking their minds against a SECDEF who was doing great harm to the Armed Services-people somehow find wrong. You cannot have it both ways. If “the revolt of the generals” was wrong-so too was Keane’s undermining of the Army leadership to bring about the surge.

    I don’t accept that either was wrong to speak out-the retired officers are supposed to be the “lobby” that active duty cannot have. Would that the Navy had more retired officers speaking out against the buffoonery being inflicted by the current active duty leadership with respect to shipbuilding, diversity, and the train wreck that is Naval Aviation procurement.

  • UltimaRatioReg


    You said “If “the revolt of the generals” was wrong-so too was Keane’s undermining of the Army leadership to bring about the surge.”

    You have a point there. Perceptions do play a part, though. The revolt was perceived by some (me included) as a personal attack for the purpose of removing someone from leadership. Gen Keane’s voice was advocating for a strategy.

    In the end, though, I agree, there needs to be nothing done about this “problem”. I may disagree with what was done/said in either case, but suggesting legal measures to limit who says what reflects a dangerous notion that limiting freedom is a first option. And the voices of these accomplished senior officers do indeed provide much more good and solid than bad.

  • FOD Detector

    We can pretend this is a First Amendment issue but it isn’t.

    Dr. Snider specifically highlights McCaffrey’s example and Snider’s proposed remedy is to have retired flags voluntarily list their affiliations with for-profit and non-profit organizations. There is no mention of political party membership.

    The so-called “Revolt of the Generals” is a canard. Whether you agree or not with their stance, it is difficult to see how their opinions were motivated by financial or personal gain.

    Look, no one would approve of a financial analyst going on some financial news program and touting some stock or company without divulging he or she was a principal or major investor in said company. Why shouldn’t we expect the same from retired officers?

  • Eagle1

    You’d think the words “General” or “Admiral” before that (ret) thingie would be disclosure enough for most sentient beings. Otherwise, it’s just Mr. Eisenhower, Mr. MacArthur, Mr. Keane, etc.

  • Eagle1

    However, in the interest of “fairness,” FOD, let’s have full disclosure from you of your rank, military service, retirement status, current employment, and affiliations with for-profit and non-profit organizations so we know how to judge your opinions.

  • Y.S.,

    First off, welcome back to active blogging. Hope your XO tour went well.

    Like most folks, I’m initially conflicted on these things. When I see retired military spouting off my feelings are naturally colored by whether I agree with their POV. If I disagree then my thought is retired GOFO’s are to be seen and not heard. Just like when I see some idiot entertainer talking about the world ending because of imaginary global warming. Reality is they, as others have correctly said, have every right to express their opinion. However, I think the media that quotes them have an ethical obligation to present opposing views. When they throw out Gen. Blank (ret) to criticize an administration position they should find Gen. Fillinthe (ret) (or an administration spokesman) to respond. The problem really isn’t with the retiree expressing themselves. What makes it a problem is when the media quotes a retired general or a few of them as being reflective of all retired military.

    Mr. Keane

  • FOD Detector

    Eagle 1: When I go on some major media outlet and am asked for my expert opinion, full disclosure should be expected. If CNN or thee NY Times asked about my views on, say, LCS–shouldn’t it be expected I disclose I work for LM or GD?

    Your bio claims you’re an attorney. If MSNBC asked for your legal analysis on a case, should it not be disclosed you or your firm represents a party to the case? Please correct me if I’m wrong but isn’t possible your failure to disclose such ties could lead to sanctions?

    A decade or so ago, a WSJ reporter was actually convicted of securities fraud for touting stocks in his column without revealing
    his ownership of those stocks.

  • FOD:

    You miss the point.

    The professor is calling for a “preregistration” on the part of retired flag officers of certain ranks, not a case by case disclosure as you advocate for yourself. The piece says:

    …the Chief of Staff of the Army…should quickly establish under the auspices of the Profession an electronic registry of retired three- and four-star generals that details the affiliations of each officer, both with for-profit and not-for-profit entities…Most importantly, the registry would be open to the public so that any interested person could see at any time, under the auspices of the Profession, the ties each individual retired general has and has voluntarily offered to the public. Perceptions of conflicts of interest can best be avoided if all affiliations are well-known in advance of commitments and contracts.

    You can be sure if I or my firm was representing a client in a case about which I was contacted by MSNBC my representation would be indicated by “attorney for defendant” or “attorney for plaintiff.” My comments would be limited to those allowed by the court and the rules of the profession.

    So far, however, no one has mandated that I list all my former and current clients as well as my other professional or social affiliations before I am contacted by any media outlet about any legal or other matter whether or not I have a client involved.

    You except yourself from disclosure because this forum is not a “major media outlet?” Or because you stand on your First Amendment right to free speech no matter who you are and what your background is?

    I respect the latter.

    Keep commenting away, we’re getting a sense of you the more you write.

  • Byron

    I’ll never forget David Hackworth, Col., USA, ranting during the build up to Desert Storm about all the Abrahms and Bradleys and Apaches would turn into death traps, that thousands of body bags would be filled, that their training sucked, their leadership sucked, on and on and on. Not a word in opposition was said or written. By Day 3 of the ground war, Hack was no where to be found. I suspect that H.R. McMaster might have told him otherwise, but that great warrior is above all that.

    One thing these flags need to keep in mind once they retire: the longer the time from retirement day, the less their info is pertinent due to that old acronym: OBE.

  • Allow me to inject a bit of capitalist spirit into this conversation and suggest I disagree with the premise FOD is forwarding, if indeed I understand him correctly.

    I outright reject the premise that simply being paid for giving an opinion is enough to forward the perception of corruption or influence, as if the presence of money alone equals a biased therefore illegitimate point of view. It is entirely possible, and the data proves it is often more realistic to suggest that high profile retired Admirals and Generals possess the conviction and independent thought to believe what they are saying with or without being paid to give their opinion in public.

    People get paid for advocating what they believe all the time and that fact alone should never be viewed in a negative perception in my opinion. Being paid while advocating ideas in public is a system that is as American as apple pie; our entire political party system runs on this concept.

    This medium of blogging is another visible example of this behavior taking place in our society today. Under the premise that money always corrupts opinions, every liberal blogger who accepts advertising from a liberal advertising network, or every conservative blogger who accepts advertising from a conservative advertising network; only believes what they are saying because of who advertises on their blogs. I reject that.

    I believe most folks, whether simply a blogger or a retired flag officer, already possess the convections necessary to form their opinions, and ultimately benefit from being prominent enough to be paid for saying what they actually believe.

    This isn’t a bad thing. I’ve noticed critics too often focus on why an idea is being promoted in the defense discussions and should focus more on what the idea itself is. I’ve been guilty of that myself, but when doing so I have always made clear that motive alone for an idea being forwarded is always trumped by the level of quality the idea itself represents.

  • FOD Detector

    Eagle 1: Such drama.

    Dr. Snider has suggested such disclosures be voluntary. Your heartburn appears to be the preregistration aspect which is, of course, trivial to the point of inanity. As Snider notes, this is done out of convenience rather than some draconian plot to strip civil rights. Regardless, it isn’t central to the issue.

    Hiding behind the First Amendment is disingenuous. Virtually every profession maintains some kind of code of ethics regarding financial disclosures and conflicts of interest; why exempt military flag officers?

    Byron: Re Hackworth: I fear you have badly misrepresented Hackworth. Hackworth was wrong on many things but he never said what you claim.

  • FOD Detector

    Galrahn: You make a fine argument of an argument that was never made.

    Perhaps a GEN McCaffrey really and truly believes in the programs he is paid to market. It isn’t the issue. The issue is one of full disclosure; allow those who hear McCaffrey’s pronouncements to decide the merit of his opinions with the full understanding he may be profitting from them.

    Certainly nobody is arguing that being a paid representative of some company should disqualify anyone from rendering an opinion.

  • Byron

    FOD, I saw and listened to him say these very things on CNN during the air war. No if, and, or buts. He joins a long line of retired staff and flag officers who once retired become media miliary savants. End of my discussion on the subject.

  • It seems that one piece of the puzzle that is missing is the fact of actually evaluating that is stated by them. It does not matter how much a person is paid to make a statement. Eventually that statement will have to pass some sort of reality test.

    As for ethics, this hypothetical registration program will simply provide fuel and ammunition to those who has appointed themselves as ethics cops. Unethical people are often exposed by their own actions over time.

    Not for for anything, but the most ethical would be targeted by a program like this most because they would be the ones most likely to make a full disclosure as opposed to a person acting unethically, who ‘forgets’ to list a controversial affiliation or two.

    while he is at it, why not suggest that family members list their affiliations as well, because those connections is where the ethics cops would probably target first.

  • FOD Detector

    FFry: Your argument seems to be unethical people will behave unethically, so why have ethics at all.

  • Bill Aston

    This seems to be a bunch of nonsense. But I do respect the wit of prior posts.
    Before anyone subjects retired military experts ( true or false) to pre-registration please seek to do the same for all other citizens of whatever profession who dare to support a position on any matter dealing with their prior career. Were I Required to make a sober comment it would be that the Good Professor has too much time on his hands. Not unusual in the academic world but a bit strange for someone takng the Queen’s Shilling.
    Bah! Humbug.

  • Fod,
    No, my argument is that unethical people will not participate in a such a system voluntary or otherwise. You just punish the ones who behave ethically.

  • sid

    How hard is it to live on a six figure retirement that is guaranteed for life?

  • UltimaRatioReg


    Excellent point. Making laws to stop lawbreakers takes away rights of the law-abiding.

  • FOD Detector

    It’s not a law that’s being proposed. It’s a voluntary system.

    Nor is it “punishment.”


    It’s merely encouraging ethical behavior. If one has a financial interest in an issue, that financial issue should be disclosed if one is asked to provide an expert analysis/opinion on the issue.