ILLUSTRATION BY JOE CIARDIELLO FOR USN&WR
Maybe Sen. Hillary Clinton had it right in her recent tv ad asking who is most prepared for a late-night call from the White House Situation Room. It rarely happens, and none have been of the Pearl Harbor kind of alerts, but we've finally found one 3 a.m. wake-up call to the first family's bedroom that could have changed history. On Jan. 19, 1991, U.S. satellites detected Iraq's launching of Scud missiles toward Israel. At 3 a.m., then President George H.W. Bush was awakened at Camp David and advised to call and warn Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir of the incoming attack and ask that he not retaliate. "It was kind of a double call," recalls former Reagan-Bush spokesman Marlin Fitzwater, who, with others also awakened at Camp David, had even fewer minutes to script the scene for Bush. "First we had to wake up Bush to tell him, and that was in the middle of the night, and then the message that we had to give him was that he needed to call Shamir to tell him the missiles were six minutes out." The concern in any bedroom call like that: "You don't know the president's condition in the middle of the night," he says. "That was a pretty good example of somebody who needs some common sense about him at 3 in the morning."
Clinton's hubby never got one like that. In fact, ex-aides say the late-night Bubba did most of the calling.