Because he wrote about and taught Sun Tzu's Art of War, you would be correct to think Gen. Tao views Sun Tzu favorably. His book offers numerous accounts from Chinese history to support his arguments. I say arguments not in the sense they were controversial -- his interpretations were grounded, perhaps even mundane -- but rather they are those from a hardened individual who was a product of his specific time and place.
For example, although Gen. Tao was an ardent supporter of Sun Tzu and his wisdom, which he demonstrated throughout much of the book, he did manage to offer a few critiques. One was how he thought Sun Tzu seemed to look down upon laboring people when Sun Tzu said to kick away the ladder behind soldiers and to move them to and fro like a shepherd herding sheep.
In his second critique Gen. Tao concluded that Sun Tzu's principle, "There are occasions when the commands of the sovereign need not be obeyed" is obsolete. He argued that since war is a part of politics, "[this principle] often causes irremediable damage to the nation if long-term and overall interests of the state are given up for the sake of local interests in the battlefield."
It would seem Gen. Tao was trying to balance his admiration for Sun Tzu with a rather brief, almost half-hearted attempt to appear less zealous. I respect that attempt, but they don't hold up when we consider three concepts from The Art of War itself.
First, in Chapter One, Sun Tzu right off the bat mentions the Tao or the Way, where the general and the people are aligned. The interests of the people are what gives someone political power. So if both the general and the people are aligned, it would only mean the ruler would be out of touch if he and the general disagree. If the ruler is out of touch, then his commands can, should, and must be ignored. What happened to the Jewish people in Europe during World War II is one devastating example.
Second, in Chapter Three, Sun Tzu explained at relative length how a ruler who erroneously administers the army like he administers civil matters can bring trouble and disaster onto the battlefield. When this happens, how could this possibility serve the nation well in the long-term? Today, over 60 years later, the Vietnam War is a disturbing reminder of this failure for not only the 58,220 American soldiers who died fighting far away from their homes but also the uncountable millions of Vietnamese who perished on both sides.
Third, in Chapter Twelve, Sun Tzu speaks to the possibility that leaders themselves can make horrendous, irreversible mistakes. Sun Tzu was obsessed with being cautious when wielding the instruments of warfare, and for good reason:
"The ruler may not move his army out of anger; the general may not do battle out of wrath. If it is advantageous, move; if it is not advantageous, stop. Those angry will be happy again, and those wrathful will be cheerful again, but a destroyed nation cannot exist again, the dead cannot be brought back to life." Sun Tzu
However, from Sun Tzu's perspective, the military leader's job is just as crucial, if not more so, because in his hands are the lives of hundreds of thousands. And in modern times, it has meant the lives of millions.
"The general who does not advance to seek glory, or does not withdraw to avoid punishment, but cares for only the people's security and promotes the people's interests, is the nation's treasure." Sun Tzu
Let's now take a look at the verse in Chapter One where Sun Tzu mentions if the general follows his principles and applies them, he will prevail so keep him, and if not, dismiss him. Because of the arrangement of the Chinese characters, another plausible translation of that verse is if the ruler follows his principles and applies them, he will stay, and if not, he will leave. "He" leaving or staying here is Sun Tzu himself!
Some translators and commentators are so taken aback by Sun Tzu's impudence here that they believe this can't be possible. However, from my analysis of Sun Tzu's character, his integrity, confidence, and strength are beyond reproach, and so I believe his bold stance is indeed a possibility -- especially for a general who would have the fortitude to disobey a ruler's command.
Interestingly enough, if the ruler and the general don't see eye to eye in the first place, a general like Sun Tzu would not be around to assist in the ruler's objectives, much less be around to disobey commands. In this situation, it would seem leaders aren't put in leadership positions, and so what you have is a situation that lacks leadership. What you have is a bunch of yes-people incapable of thinking for themselves. Have you ever experienced that in the corporate world?
Furthermore, Sun Tzu disobeying an order isn't about being audacious or even about being "right," but about fervently subscribing to wisdom and sound judgement that are grounded on benefiting society. He believes that an order that lacks reason, and thus does great harm to others, is an order to be ignored.
Imagine how beneficial it is in our society to have wise and thinking people in leadership positions who can determine the fate of so many. They would be a treasure worth keeping. We would want them to stay.