He carried the “nuclear football,” the briefcase containing all the data needed for the United States to launch a nuclear attack.
He tracked the location of Osama bin Laden on a satellite phone.
And for two years, retired Lt. Col. Robert “Buzz” Patterson followed President Bill Clinton across the globe as his senior military aide.
Once, as Patterson told a crowd of students Tuesday in Dey Hall, he even walked in on the president and Monica Lewinsky.
But it wasn’t until 1996 that Patterson said he became political. When the administration’s job offer first arrived, he thought it was a prank.
“I didn’t start out to be a conservative pundit,” Patterson said.
After serving 20 years in the U.S. Air Force, including several tours of duty as a combat pilot, Patterson got a call from the White House inviting him to serve as Clinton’s senior military aide.
He accepted and moved to Washington, D.C., two weeks later.
Patterson said he voted for Ronald Reagan but didn’t vote again until he cast a ballot for George W. Bush in 2000. He said his political views developed during his time in the White House.
Today, Patterson blames the 9/11 attacks on Clinton, who had several opportunities to have bin Laden killed, he said.
“We knew exactly where he was,” Patterson said. “We had at least eight to 10 times to pull the trigger on bin Laden — to either capture him or kill him — in my two years in the White House, and every single time, President Clinton chose not to.”
Patterson added that Clinton knew of the perceived threats of al-Qaida hijacking airplanes to attack U.S. buildings.
“I personally lay the blame for 9/11 on President Bill Clinton,” he said.
Patterson went on to discuss U.S. military involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan, of which he said he is a strong supporter.
“Whether or not President Bush intended it to be this way, it was a brilliant idea in the grand scheme of things,” Patterson said.
Garrett Jacobs, an economics major and a member of the College Republicans, said the stories were reminiscent of what he’d heard from friends.
“I know other people who have served in Iraq and Afghanistan, and his stories about when he was there sort of rang true with what they’ve said and reminded me exactly why we’re over there,” he said.
Patterson segued from Iraq to criticize Obama’s performance, saying he is an even more poorly equipped leader than Clinton was.
“I really thought I had worked for the worst commander in chief in our nation’s history,” he said. “I was wrong.”
The Committee for a Better Carolina brought Patterson to speak at UNC, saying he brought a new point of view to campus.
“He covers a topic that we had not brought a speaker in to speak on before,” said Jason Sutton, a senior political science major and president of the group.
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