Golf and Crises: Leftist Myopia

On the heels of Hurricane Maria’s devastation of Puerto Rico, liberals have been absolutely apoplectic that President Donald Trump chose to attend the Presidents Cup golf tournament in Bedminster, New Jersey. Senator Chris Murphy (D-Conn) said “Today our president will sit in his opulent golf course attacking hurricane first responders.” Broadway’s Lin-Manuel Miranda, of Hamilton fame, tweeted, “You’re going straight to hell, @realDonaldTrump.” Singer Lady Gaga tweeted, “I (think) it’s clear where the ‘poor leadership’ lies @realDonaldTrump.” Comedian Wanda Sykes tweeted, “Dear NFL players, please go to Puerto Rico and kneel to trick @realDonaldTrump into focusing on what the fuck he should be focusing on.”


Interesting, that the Left only exhibits a sense of caring for the human condition when it’s a Republican president or conservative leader they can attack. Never let a crisis go to waste. There’s political hay to be made. Dear Democrats, Hollywood and our “popular culture,” let me now educate you on true lack of leadership, true dereliction of duty, true lack of focus, from a president and commander in chief. Case in point: let me recall my experience when I worked for President Clinton in 1996, who was also attending the Presidents Cup golf tournament, and the consequences of Clinton’s “leadership” which resulted in significantly more dire results and needless deaths.


As recounted from my first book, New York Times bestselling “Dereliction of Duty.” On this rainy Friday afternoon, we were on our way to watch the President’s Cup golf tournament in Lake Manassas, Virginia. It was September 13, 1996. I had only been working for President Clinton for three months, but I was already well aware of his passion for golf. Having just returned from three days of campaigning on the West Coast and an early-morning cross-country flight on Air Force One, he was up and at it again. This was the Presidents Cup, the team from the United States versus the world, and President Clinton wasn’t going to miss it.


Shortly before three in the afternoon, we arrived at the course. Clinton, wearing his normal golf attire of a sport shirt and khaki slacks, was escorted by PGA commissioner Tim Finchem to a VIP tent just behind the clubhouse. One the way, he stopped to shake a few hands and wave to the crowd. The VIP tent was just outside the clubhouse back door, on a deck overlooking the eighteenth green. The president was seated under a protective tarpaulin with other distinguished guests and surrounded by food and drink.


During events like these, I kept close enough to the president to be always with sight and on call, but far enough away to be unobtrusive. If this had been an official event, I would have been in full uniform, Air Force blue, with the traditional silver aiguillette hanging from my right shoulder, signifying the military aide to the president. Today, I was much less obvious, wearing a sport shirt with my White House ID hanging around my neck and a Secret Service pin on my lapel. The obligatory large black satchel, the “nuclear football,” was always at my side.


Another one of my significant responsibilities, when away from the White House, was to be the president’s call screener. Important phone calls from world leaders, staff members, congressmen and women, and, of course, Hillary, would be routed through me. I would then pass on the call to the president. On this particular day, I was summoned to Roadrunner, the black communications van manned by members of the White House Communications Agency. On the phone was Sandy Berger, the acting White House national security advisor. Berger wanted me to contact the president. He needed a presidential decision quickly.


“Major, we’re poised to launch air strikes on Iraq and I need the president’s nod.”


I approached President Clinton, trying to attract his eye as respectfully as I could without unduly interfering in his viewing of the golf and his conversation with good friend Vernon Jordan. He looked at me with a perturbed sigh and frowning eyebrows. Nonetheless, he asked, “What do you need, Buzz?”


“Sir, Mr. Berger is on the line and needs a decision about the proposed attack on Iraq.”


“Tell him I’ll get back to him later.”


I returned to the communications van and the waiting phone. “Mr. Berger, the president said he’d get back to you later.” Berger groused and hung up.


These were busy days on the domestic and national security fronts. Just two weeks earlier, on August 31, Saddam Hussein had sent three tank divisions, composed of between thirty and forty thousand of his elite Republican Guard, to capture the northern Kurdish city of Irbil, forcing the mass exodus of from fifty thousand to three hundred thousand refugees, depending on differing United Nations reports.


The Republican Guard had executed an estimated one hundred Iraqi dissidents, arrested fifteen hundred more, and were intent on generally extinguishing whatever opposition Saddam Hussein might face. The Kurds in Northern Iraq were considered a constant irritant to Saddam and he was intent on eliminating them. In response, the United States prepared to counterattack and repel the invasion. We dispatched eight F-117 stealth fighter-bombers capable of carrying 2,000-pound bombs into the region and sent B-52s to Diego Garcia, in the Indian Ocean, in preparation for action.


On September 11, two days before the golf outing, President Clinton told a crowd in Sun City, Arizona, that “action is imminent” in Iraq and that “the determination of the United States in dealing with the problem of Iraq should not be underestimated.” Pentagon officials claimed an attack was “very likely” and would be “large and destructive.” In other words, the Clinton administration and the Pentagon had promised our support to the Kurds and were planning to defend them militarily.


Now, on September 13, while the president attended a golf tournament in Manassas—near the site of a heralded Civil War battlefield and the graves of thousands of American citizen-soldiers—National Security Council director Sandy Berger was looking for a decision from our commander in chief.


I was called back to the Roadrunner van and took another phone call from Berger. This time he was highly animated, obviously upset. Our attack was to be launched under cover of darkness, and we were wasting valuable time. Pilots were in cockpits, engines running, waiting to launch. Targets were identified, everything was in place, all Berger needed was the go-ahead.


These were my peers in those cockpits, fellow Air Force officers and aviators. I could picture them. Mentally and emotionally, I placed myself with them. I had been there myself, on the edge of a military operation headed into harm’s way and waiting for the chain of command to kick things off. I promised Berger, “I’ll make every effort to get to President Clinton as quickly as I possibly can and explain the circumstances. I’ll get back to you as soon as possible.”


This time, the president was engaged in conversations with several people and was even less approachable. I maneuvered through the crowd and caught his eye. When President Clinton saw me, he seemed disturbed again with something seemingly unimportant. He frowned as I neared him. “Mr. President, Mr. Berger has called again and needs a decision soon.” I explained, in a hushed tone, “We have our pilots in cockpits, ready to launch, and we’re running out of the protective cover of nighttime over there. Soon, it will be too late.”


Irritated at me, and maybe at Berger, he said, “I’ll call Berger when I get the chance.”


Optimistically, I interpreted this to mean soon. But, it was not to be. Not fifteen minutes later, Berger called me again. This time he was irate—at me, not the president. “Where is the president? What is he doing? Can I talk to him?”


“Sir, he is watching the golf tournament with several friends. I’ve approached him twice with your request. I’ve communicated, as completely as I can, your concerns about the window of opportunity and about the pilots being prepared and ready to go. I’m an Air Force pilot myself, sir. I fully understand the ramifications. I’ll try again.”


As I approached the president for the third time in less than an hour, I thought about the hundreds, if not thousands, of people who must have put in considerable time and focused effort into this attack plan and were now hanging on the president’s decision. I thought about the tens of thousands of innocent people in Northern Iraq who might have their lives taken were we not to act. I knew that we had our military force primed to strike, potentially taking lives, or having their lives taken. It all came down to a simple yes or no that was being solicited in the midst of a golf tournament on a rainy day.


I made my way through the crowded VIP tent. The president spotted me, headed me off at the pass, and spoke first. “Tell Berger that I’ll give him a call on my way back to the White House,” he said coolly, indifferently. “That’s all.” And he dismissed me.


I called Berger, one more time, and explained what the president had said. Berger sounded defeated and sighed. “Okay,” he said. We both knew what that meant. We’d missed our opportunity.


In the Persian Gulf the sun was coming up. Jet engines were shutting down, and pilots would climb from their cockpits and return to their squadrons and their beds. Commanders, war planners, targeting experts, and controllers would push back from their computers, put the phones down, and have a final cup of coffee before heading home.


The president smiled as he signed autographs, shook hands, and waved at the crowd. He climbed into his limo while I, the staff, and the Secret Service scrambled to our vehicles. We made the rainy drive back to the White House.


The day thousands of human lives were lost, and the United States broke a promise. At a time when America’s honor and grander principles were being challenged and the world was watching our every move...the president was watching golf.


And the Left’s collective selective morality continues.

Lieutenant Colonel Robert "Buzz" Patterson, United States Air Force (Retired), is a military combat pilot, distinguished White House military aide, bestselling author, and popular conservative public speaker. Among Patterson’s literary efforts include two New York Times best sellers, Dereliction of Duty and Reckless Disregard. His most recent books include War Crimes and Conduct Unbecoming. Patterson was born in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. He is a Distinguished Graduate from the Air Command and Staff College; he has his Bachelor's Degree in Political Science from Virginia Tech University and a Master's in Business Administration from Webster University in St. Louis, Missouri. He, his wife and their three children currently reside in California. 


Buzz Patterson

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