We’ve all misplaced items around the house before — our keys, or a wallet. How many of you are certain where your TV remote is at the moment? Of course, you don’t need a TV remote to command the nuclear forces of the US, either:
When you’re President of the United States, you can lose a vote, you can lose popular support, and you can lose a round of golf. But you’re never, ever supposed to lose the biscuit.
That’s what they call the card the president is meant to keep close at hand, bearing the codes that he has to have in order to launch a nuclear attack. And for several months during the Clinton administration, a former top military officer says they lost the biscuit.
Gen. Hugh Shelton, who served under Clinton as Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, tells the story in his just-published memoir, “Without Hesitation: The Odyssey of an American Warrior.”
“At one point during the Clinton administration,” Shelton writes, “the codes were actually missing for months. […] That’s a big deal — a gargantuan deal.”
Did they look under the sofa cushions? That’s where my remote usually winds up.
It may have happened more than once. Retired Air Force Lt. Col. Robert “Buzz” Patterson carried the “football” during part of the Clinton presidency, and saw enough while on the inside to turn into a fierce critic of Clinton, writing a book about it called Dereliction of Duty. (Patterson just published another book about Barack Obama, Conduct Unbecoming.) In Dereliction of Duty, Patterson describes a similar incident in 1998, while Shelton’s anecdote comes from 2000. Patterson left the White House in 1998, so either Shelton’s dating of the incident is in error, or Clinton lost the biscuit twice.
Obviously, the probability of using the biscuit was low at any time, and even less likely in the post-Soviet era. However, hiding his loss of the biscuit for months rather than admitting his error immediately and rectifying the situation sounds like classic Bill Clinton, doesn’t it? And in this case, he misplaced the security of the United States and either didn’t care enough to act to correct it or worried more about his own embarrassment than his ability to respond to a nuclear attack. So much for Clinton nostalgia.