Monday, December 29, 2008

Bush Refuses To Interrupt His Final Vacation As Middle East Crisis Escalates In an effort to “prevent Palestinians from attacking towns in southern Israel” with rockets, Israel today undertook its third day of offensive military airstrikes in the Palestinian territory of Gaza, raising the death toll to more than 300. The Palestinian casualty numbers have been described as the highest over such a brief period since the 1967 Six-Day war. Scores of Israelis have been wounded — and at least one killed — by rocket attacks fired by Palestinians. Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak called the situation “all out war.
”While Bush has been briefed on the situation by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley, he has opted not to interrupt his final vacation as president to make a public statement on the crisis. For someone who has enjoyed the most vacation days as sitting president — including days spent relaxing in comfort during Hurricane Katrina and in the lead-up to 9/11 — it shouldn’t come as a huge surprise that Bush prioritizes vacationing over crisis management. ABC News reports:
Even an emerging crisis in the Middle East, one he pledged to resolve just 13 months ago, has not drawn President George W. Bush from his final vacation before leaving office. Despite his personal pledge at Annapolis last year to broker a deal between Israel and the Palestinians before 2009, this weekend Bush sent his spokesmen to comment in his stead. […]
Since departing Washington for Crawford on Friday, President Bush has made no attempt to be seen in public. In fact, he has yet to leave his ranch.
Today, in a press briefing delivered from the “Western White House” in Crawford, TX, White House spokesman Gordon Johndroe was asked what is on Bush’s schedule today. In addition to receiving “updates on the ongoing situation,” Johndroe said, “I expect he’ll probably ride his bicycle today and spend time with Mrs. Bush.” Watch it:
President-elect Barack Obama has also been monitoring the violence from his vacationing spot in Hawaii, staying in contact with Bush and Rice. “President Bush speaks for the United States until Jan. 20 and we’re going to honor that,” Obama adviser David Axelrod said.
One senior Bush administration official told the Washington Post that he thinks the Israelis acted in Gaza “because they want it to be over before the next administration comes in” and because “they can’t predict how the next administration will handle it.” Indeed, Bush has become fairly predictable in how he manages these sorts of crises.
Update: On ABC's This Week yesterday, Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-OH) expressed his hope that removing Bush's hands-off approach may help address the situation. "I'm hopeful that as this transition comes, as we look to January, that strong presidential leadership can make a difference here."
LSB: I understand Obama's reluctance to weigh in on the situation ('we only have one president at a time'), but when the one president we do have won't interrupt his bicycle riding on the Crawford Ranch long enough to deal with a Middle East crisis for which he has claimed such concern in the past, it seems that there is already a leadership vacuum. I used to think that this ten-week transition between presidents was necessary in order to allow the incoming administration to get approved and up-to-speed, but that only works when the current administration continues to be engaged until the actual transfer of power on January 20th. "W" has already checked-out, so Obama needs to find a way to jointly work with "W" on this problem in the interim: joint press conferences (look how effective Obama's transition team announcements were on calming the economic markets); a trip to the Middle East to meet with Israeli leaders (a symbolic "let me introduce you to the new guy"); etc. Can we afford to wait another three weeks to get a leader in Washington? While he's waiting to take charge, Obama could reluctantly be pulled into yet another military action - something the U.S. just cannot afford, - so it is time to show some leadership and derail this situation before it gets worse. If "W" can't or won't lead, Obama needs to drag him around by the nose to get the work done.

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