Monica Lewinsky was the last thing on the mind of former Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Hugh Shelton at his final meeting with President Clinton, days before George W. Bush's 2001 inauguration. But in a rare look at the shame Bubba felt over the affair, it seems that Lewinsky and his own behavior were front and center in Clinton's last days. "Hugh, I need to see you in private, please," the retired general recalls Clinton saying, in his upcoming autobiography Without Hesitation. Shelton pulled the president into an office near the White House Situation Room, and Clinton came clean to the officer whom many call among the most ethical to hold the top brass slot. "Hugh, I know the last few years have put a tremendous strain on you based on my ... activity. I know the principles for which you stand, and I know the values, and character, that our men and women in uniform expect—and possess—and in truthfulness, I have not lived up to those values; and yet, you have stuck by me," Shelton recalls Clinton saying.
Shelton, who later backed Hillary Clinton over Barack Obama for president in 2008, portrays a President Clinton fully engaged in military planning and hunting Osama bin Laden despite his troubles. For example, he devotes a chapter to shooting down the so-called Wag the Dog episode where the prez ordered a missile strike on Iraq days before his December 1998 impeachment. Critics charged that Clinton copied the 1997 movie in which the president, caught in a sex affair, fabricated a war to divert the nation's attention. "There was not one scrap of truth to it," writes Shelton, who also served George W. Bush as Joint Chiefs chairman through 9/11.
The general isn't kind to all in his life story. Arizona Sen. John McCain, Obama's 2008 foe, gets it the worst for ranting at Shelton at repeated congressional hearings. "I was convinced that he had a screw loose," Shelton writes. McCain's office has no comment.
Shelton adds that McCain's GOP candidacy worried him. "I was extremely concerned about the possibility of someone as apparently unstable as McCain ... having responsibility over the nuclear" arsenal.
Illustration by Ed Wexler for USN&WR.