Best Defense

Thomas E. Ricks' daily take on national security.

Shelton IV: His surprising conclusions on Bush and Clinton administrations

I wasn’t surprised that former Joint Chiefs Chairman Shelton was angry at the Bush administration. I was surprised to see him flatly charge that Bush administration officials lied. But I was even more surprised to see his conclusion that the Clinton administration ran more smoothly than Bush’s, especially in handling the media. "You saw it ...

LUKE FRAZZA/AFP/Getty Images
LUKE FRAZZA/AFP/Getty Images
LUKE FRAZZA/AFP/Getty Images

I wasn't surprised that former Joint Chiefs Chairman Shelton was angry at the Bush administration. I was surprised to see him flatly charge that Bush administration officials lied. But I was even more surprised to see his conclusion that the Clinton administration ran more smoothly than Bush's, especially in handling the media. "You saw it from the very start, but it was really after 9/11 that you repeatedly saw that the left hand had no idea what the right one was doing." (460)

I was interested to see that Shelton came away with a real respect and even affection for Bill Clinton. This isn't surprising, perhaps -- after all, Clinton elevated him to the chairmanship of the Joint Chiefs. But remember that Clinton sometimes had a rocky relationship with the military. "From my standpoint, he was a brilliant individual with a keen understanding of the big picture, yet he could very quickly zero in and identify the weakest link in war plans. His focus was intense… I felt that as commander in chief, he would be hard to beat." (400)

I wasn’t surprised that former Joint Chiefs Chairman Shelton was angry at the Bush administration. I was surprised to see him flatly charge that Bush administration officials lied. But I was even more surprised to see his conclusion that the Clinton administration ran more smoothly than Bush’s, especially in handling the media. "You saw it from the very start, but it was really after 9/11 that you repeatedly saw that the left hand had no idea what the right one was doing." (460)

I was interested to see that Shelton came away with a real respect and even affection for Bill Clinton. This isn’t surprising, perhaps — after all, Clinton elevated him to the chairmanship of the Joint Chiefs. But remember that Clinton sometimes had a rocky relationship with the military. "From my standpoint, he was a brilliant individual with a keen understanding of the big picture, yet he could very quickly zero in and identify the weakest link in war plans. His focus was intense… I felt that as commander in chief, he would be hard to beat." (400)

Thomas E. Ricks covered the U.S. military from 1991 to 2008 for the Wall Street Journal and then the Washington Post. He can be reached at ricksblogcomment@gmail.com. Twitter: @tomricks1

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