The Magazine

Not in Command

Bill Clinton's military aide tells all.

Apr 21, 2003, Vol. 8, No. 31 • By BENJAMIN SCHEMMER
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Months before he left the White House, Patterson "had become completely dejected." At one point, all five of Clinton's military aides even discussed "resigning en masse, . . . leaving our posts simultaneously in disgust." One of the aides "refused his Oval Office farewell from the president." Patterson, a dedicated officer and the son of a major general who had commanded the Air Force's special operations forces, considered doing so as well: "I did not want to have to shake the president's hand"; but he agreed to the ceremony to give his wife and parents the chance to come to the White House as Clinton presented him with the Defense Superior Service Medal. As they were ushered into the Oval Office, "I caught a glance at President Clinton--and I couldn't believe it. He was eyeballing my wife as though she had just entered a singles bar." Patterson has not opened the box that he put his medal in upon receiving it.

Patterson's firsthand narrative is not without flaws. A more-in-sorrow-than-in-anger tone, and the allowing of a few good qualities to Clinton, might have made "Dereliction of Duty" more persuasive--and thus even more devastating. The book is too short, massively cut down from a longer manuscript by the publisher, and then bulked up again with filler: an unnecessary and almost hysterical anti-Clinton foreword by one of the publisher's staff; a twenty-page, boilerplate chronology of Clinton's foreign policy that appears as one appendix; a chapter excerpted from Caspar Weinberger's 2001 book, "In the Arena: A Memoir of the 20th Century," that appears as yet another appendix.

Four pages of this extraneous matter, however, are helpful--and will sorely challenge anyone to refute Patterson's view of Clinton's presidency. Those pages reproduce the officer-performance reports that the president gave Patterson during his tour: "America's finest, a standout leader," "trusted advisor and agent," "Masterful planner," "diplomatic, thorough, and discerning." And, in Clinton's own pen, "He is a fine man. His work was outstanding. His potential is great."

Benjamin Schemmer is the author of "No Room For Error" and "The Raid." For almost twenty-five years, he edited Armed Forces Journal International and was editor in chief of Strategic Review.