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George W. Bush: The War President is Missing in Action

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This article is part of the Center for Media & Democracy's focus on the fallout of nuclear "spin."

George W. Bush: The War President is [Continues to be] Missing in Action.

"As it happens, the longer trips follow a historical pattern going back at least to the Nixon administration: The worse the news in Washington, the harder it is to keep the president there. Next: Ohio and Texas and the ranch in Crawford."—Dale McFeatters, Capitol Hill Blue, July 31, 2006. [1]

"Did Somebody Say War?"

August 2007

"Bush on track to become the vacation president," Julie Mason headlined in the August 9, 2007, edition of the Houston Chronicle:[1]

"On Thursday, Bush left for a weekend in Kennebunkport, Maine, and his family's summer compound, Walker's Point. On Monday, he heads to his Crawford retreat, where he has spent all or part of 418 days of his presidency, according to Mark Knoller, a CBS News White House correspondent and meticulous record-keeper.
"...The presidential vacation-time record holder is the late Ronald Reagan, who tallied 436 days in his two terms. At 418 days, and with 17 months to go in his presidency, Bush is going to beat that easily."

"I guess you could look at it this way -- the more he's on vacation, the less damage he can do to the country," Pam Spaulding wrote August 12, 2007.[2]

August 2006

"Bush has spent more than a year of his presidency" at his ranch in Crawford, Texas. On August 19, 2005, "he broke Ronald Reagan's record of 335 days for America's most vacationed president and went on to take the longest presidential vacation in 36 years," Dale McFeatters wrote August 8, 2006, in a ScrippsNews editorial.

"Everyone deserves a vacation. I myself took two weeks off in July," Ann Sullivan wrote August 10, 2006, in The Ithica Journal. "Still, there is a time and place for everything. George Bush is spending at least 10 days in Crawford, clearing brush and riding his bike while the Middle East is in flames and American service men struggle to quell a civil war in Iraq. Even Tony Blair postponed his August vacation to work for a settlement in the Middle East. What kind of a dilettante do we have (when he chooses to be) in the White House?"

July 2006

In his July 15, 2006, keynote speech on the second day of a three-day conference called DemocracyFest held at San Diego State University, Democratic National Committee Chairman Howard Dean accused President George W. Bush "of being weak on national defense and absent in the escalating violence between Israel and Hezbollah fighters in Lebanon," Philip J. LaVelle wrote in the San Diego Union-Tribune.

"'You know, people say the Republicans are tough on defense. How can you be tough on defense if five years after 9/11, Osama bin Laden is still at large, the Iranians are about to get nuclear weapons, North Korea's quadrupled their nuclear weapons stash. . . .

"'Explain to me how it is that this president is tough on defense? I think this president is weak on defense and he's hurt America because he hasn't done the right thing,' Dean said", LeVelle wrote.

December 2005/January 2006

"On most of the 365 days he has enjoyed at his secluded ranch here, President Bush's idea of paradise is to hop in his white Ford pickup truck in jeans and work boots, drive to a stand of cedars, and whack the trees to the ground," Lisa Rein wrote in the December 31, 2005, Washington Post. "If the soil is moist enough, he will light a match and burn the wood. If it is parched, as it is across Texas now, the wood will sit in piles scattered over the 1,600-acre spread until it is safe for a ranch hand to torch -- or until the president can come home and do the honors himself."

August 2005

  • "President Bush will cut short his vacation to return to Washington on Wednesday, [August 31st,] two days earlier than planned, to help monitor federal efforts to assist victims of Hurricane Katrina," the Associated Press reported.
  • "Hurricane Katrina is now being called one of the worst, if not the worst, disaster in US history. Instead of focusing on this growing tragedy in the southeast, you are at this moment giving a speech in California about World War II and Iraq. Yes, you devoted one minute of that speech to the hurricane, but now it's been 20 minutes and you are still talking about WWII and Iraq."
  • "In the face of this tragedy, rather than call off your vacation days ago and head back home to coordinate the relief, but even more importantly, to show the American people that you care and are in charge, you did not fly east to Washington. You flew west to Arizona and to California. While New Orleans and the south was in the process of being destroyed yesterday, you flew west and devoted the day to Medicare."
  • "While the death toll for the hurricane increases by the hour, and even FOX News has just now cut away from your live WWII speech in order to return their coverage to New Orleans, you continue to babble on about WWII and Iraq."
  • White House spokesman David Almacy told the San Bernardino Sun August 24, 2005, "the reason that Bush is in Crawford, Texas, is due to the renovation of the West Wing of the White House.
"'He's operating on a full schedule; he's just doing it from the ranch instead of from the White House,' Almacy said. 'The only week he had officially off was this last week.'"
  • "Heartfelt congratulations to President Bush, who on Friday August 19th breaks Ronald Reagan's all-time record for most vacation days. The old record was 335 days, though Reagan took his sweet time of eight years to accomplish this feat. President Bush did it in nearly half the time. And with another two weeks of [vacation] on tap, he's obviously not content with simply breaking the record, he's going to smoke that record right out of the hole." --The Daily Pick, August 19, 2005.
When President Bush once again participated in the traditional Congressional "midsummer exodus" from Washington on August 2, 2005, he made history. [2][3]
First, this is his 49th trip to his Crawford, Texas, ranch "since he was elected nearly five years ago." Bush departed after signing the U.S.-Central America Free Trade Agreement into law, the Associated Press's Nedra Pickler wrote July 29, 2005. [4][5]
Second, "it is the longest presidential retreat in at least 36 years," according to the Washington Post's Jim VandeHei and Peter Baker. [6]
Third, Bush's trip marks "the 319th day that Bush has spent, entirely or partially, in Crawford -- roughly 20 percent of his presidency to date, according to Mark Knoller, a CBS Radio reporter known for keeping better records of the president's travel than the White House itself. Weekends and holidays at Camp David or at his parents' compound in Kennebunkport, Maine, bump up the proportion of Bush's time away from Washington even further." [7]
While the war on terrorism -- that is, the global struggle against violent extremism -- continues in such places as Iraq and Afghanistan, President Bush will keep busy throughout the month of August, beginning on August 4th, when he will "host Colombian President Alvaro Uribe at his ranch" and "spend time outdoors ... at his ranch, doing things like clearing brush and riding his bike." [8]
Although the date for Bush's return to Washington has not been set, White House spokesman Scott McClellan said Bush "also will be preparing for a busy September, when he plans to deliver major addresses on the war on terror and push the Senate to confirm" Supreme Court nominee Judge John G. Roberts, Jr. [9]
  • "The Bush Vacation Deathcount now stands at 56." (Click on # for update.) --TBogg Blogspot, August 15, 2005.
"Roads were shut down Wednesday and residents living in nearby apartments between Dooley and Ruth Wall Roads were warned not to look out of their windows Wednesday. School busses from Grapevine-Colleyville ISD formed a perimeter around the site where President George W. Bush was scheduled to land. No one was going to get a glance of the president on his way to the Gaylord Texan Resort and Convention Center." --Daily Texan Online, August 4, 2005. See related Peace Vigil in Crawford, Texas.
  • "You have to wonder whether reality ever comes knocking on George W. Bush's door. If it did, would the president with the unsettling demeanor of a boy king even bother to answer? Mr. Bush is the commander in chief who launched a savage war in Iraq and now spends his days happily riding his bicycle in Texas." --Bob Herbert, New York Times, August 18, 2005.
  • Debra Pickett, "War rages? Why fret? It's August, time for vacation," Chicago Sun-Times, August 19, 2005: "If the president wastes energy on things like American soldiers dying for a cause that seems increasingly incomprehensible, then he won't have time for the really important stuff."
  • Eugene Robinson wrote in the August 23, 2005, Washington Post that "the president's policy amounts to the belief that if he concentrates really hard -- and stays in shape by regularly doing the Tour de Crawford on his mountain bike -- he'll be able to summon a miracle."
  • Maureen Dowd wrote in the August 24, 2005, New York Times that "W. vacationed so hard in Texas he got bushed. He needed a vacation from his vacation. ... The most rested president in American history headed West yesterday to get away from his Western getaway - and the mushrooming Crawford Woodstock - and spend a couple of days at the Tamarack Resort in the rural Idaho mountains."
"As The Financial Times noted, Mr. Bush is acting positively French in his love of le loafing, with 339 days at his ranch since he took office - nearly a year out of his five."
  • 85.4% answered "Yes, while some vacation time is needed, he needs to focus on issues like Iraq and rising gas prices."
  • 14.6% answered "No. Mr. Bush has an exceptionally good work-life balance and that makes him a better president."

2004

Bob Herbert asked in his New York Times May 24, 2004, Op-Ed "Did Somebody Say War?"

"President Bush fell off his bike and hurt himself during a 17-mile excursion at his ranch in Crawford, Tex., on Saturday. Nothing serious. A few cuts and bruises. He was wearing a bike helmet and a mouth guard, and he was able to climb back on his bike and finish his ride.
"A little later he left the ranch and went to Austin for a graduation party for his daughter Jenna. And then it was on to New Haven, where daughter Barbara will graduate today from Yale. Except for the bicycle mishap, it sounded like a very pleasant weekend.
"Meanwhile, there's a war on. Yet another U.S. soldier was killed near Falluja yesterday. You remember Falluja. That's the rebellious city that the Marines gave up on and turned over to the control of officers from the very same Baathist army that we invaded Iraq to defeat."
"The invasion of Iraq was not part of the war on terror. We had no business launching this war. Now we're left with the tragic absurdity of a clueless president riding his bicycle in Texas while Americans in Iraq are going up in flames."

George W. Bush: The War President

In his February 7 (broadcast on 8th), 2004, hour-long Oval Office interview with Tim Russert on NBC's Meet the Press [10], President Bush declared himself as a "War President".

Bush: "I'm a war president. I make decisions here in the Oval Office in foreign-policy matters with war on my mind. Again, I wish it wasn't true, but it is true. And the American people need to know they got a president who sees the world the way it is. And I see dangers that exist, and it's important for us to deal with them."

However, . . .

Joshua Micah Marshall, in his April 9, 2004, Talking Points Memo, points to a "Washington Post story on the degenerating situation in Iraq ...

"This is Bush's 33rd visit to his ranch since becoming president. He has spent all or part of 233 days on his Texas ranch since taking office, according to a tally by CBS News. Adding his 78 visits to Camp David and his five visits to Kennebunkport, Maine, Bush has spent all or part of 500 days in office at one of his three retreats, or more than 40 percent of his presidency.

and this ...

"Bush spent the morning watching national security adviser Condoleezza Rice's televised testimony to the commission investigating the September 11, 2001, attacks, then toured his ranch with Wayne LaPierre Jr., chief executive of the National Rifle Association, and other leaders of hunting groups and gave an interview to Ladies' Home Journal. He is not scheduled to appear in public until Sunday, when he will visit nearby Fort Hood, the home base for seven soldiers recently killed in Baghdad.

Marshall: "Vacation gibes are usually unfair. But with the situation in Iraq so critical, shouldn't the president be at the White House? It's a full-time job, comes with a decent salary." [11]

Bush really is on vacation. Reuters reports April, 9, 2004, that "Hunters, Conservationists Get Tour of Bush Ranch":

"President Bush on Thursday opened his expansive central Texas ranch to sporting aficionados and conservation groups, including the National Rifle Association, Ducks Unlimited and Pheasants Forever.
"Bush showed off the scenic canyons, streams and trails of his 1,600-acre Prairie Chapel ranch property to 23 representatives of the organizations, a spokeswoman said."
"During the private tour, Bush spokeswoman Claire Buchan said he wanted to discuss his clean air, wetlands and healthy forests initiatives in addition to showing off the energy conservation features of his home and the native grasses that have been replanted."

Meanwhile, in late March 2004, there began a Shiite Muslim uprising in Iraq and steadily deteriorating situation marked by the development of a unification of Shiites and Sunnis in resistance.

On April 10, 2004, the Washington Post's Dan Balz and Jim VandeHei call attention to the fact that "Bush's Low Profile Questioned as Violence Flares in Iraq":

"In the face of these challenges, Bush has yielded the stage, remaining largely out of sight at his Texas ranch as others in his administration explain his policies. Bush's silence in the face of mounting U.S. casualties in Iraq and concerns about the administration's timetable for transferring power to the Iraqis has brought criticism from Democrats and Republicans alike."

On April 11, 2004, Thomas L. Friedman, writing for the New York Times, says that "The U.S. operation in Iraq is hanging by a thread. If it has any hope of surviving this Hobbesian moment, we need three conversations to happen fast: George Bush needs to talk to his father, the Arab leaders need to talk to their sons -- and daughters -- and we need to talk to the Iraqi Governing Council.

"President Bush, please call home. You need some of your father's wisdom right now." [12]

Two days earlier, on April 9th, Bob Herbert stated things quite clearly in his New York Times Op-Ed "The Empty Room,":

"Condi Rice was in Washington trying to pass her oral exam before the 9-11 Commission yesterday, and the president was on vacation in Texas. As usual, they were in close agreement, this time on the fact that neither they nor anyone else in this remarkably aloof and arrogant administration is responsible for the tragic mess unfolding in Iraq, and its implications for the worldwide war on terror.
"The president called Ms. Rice from his pickup truck on the ranch to tell her she had done a great job before the panel.
"It doesn't get more surreal than that.
"Mr. [War] President, there's a war on. You might consider hopping a plane to Washington."

Background

The "War President"'s MIA habit should come as no surprise. When Bush received the August 6, 2001, President's Daily Briefing Memo relating to al Qaeda's reported terrorism plans, he was likewise vacationing on his ranch at Crawford, Texas:

  • Terry Moran, reporting for ABC World News Tonight on August 3, 2001, headlined with the announcement that "President Bush [Was] to Spend Much of His Month-Long Vacation Enjoying Peace and Quiet of His 1600-acre Texas Ranch." Bush's vacation was to be "the longest of any president since Richard Nixon." [13]
Moran's report included the facts that Bush:
  • "... described his time off as an escape from the cloistered world of Washington."
  • "... [was] headed home to the heartland to listen to the American people and to talk about the values that unite and sustain our country."
  • "... [would] be spending most of his time on his 1600-acre ranch near Crawford, Texas, where it's very hot, very dry, and very, very quiet. And that's the way George W. Bush likes it."
  • "... [would be doing] a little fishing on the ranch. I'm sure he'll have friends and family over to the ranch. He'll do a little policy. He'll keep up with events." (according to White House spokesman Ari Fleischer).
  • "... is no workaholic [like other Baby Boomers]. Reporters who covered him when he was governor of Texas grew familiar with his laid-back approach."
  • "... was religious about wanting to take time off." (according to Wayne Slater, Dallas Morning News).
According to Moran, "In Texas, the president will get a daily intelligence briefing, and he's planning one or two side trips a week just to keep in the public eye, but mostly, it seems, he'll do what most Americans do on vacation: nothing much."
  • Eric Lichtblau and David E. Sanger write for the April 10, 2004, New York Times that "Bush Was Warned of Possible Attack in U.S., Official Says" and that "The warning came in a secret briefing that Mr. Bush received at his ranch in Crawford, Tex., on Aug. 6, 2001. A report by a joint Congressional committee last year alluded to a 'closely held intelligence report' that month about the threat of an attack by Al Qaeda, and the official confirmed an account by The Associated Press on Friday saying that the report was in fact part of the president's briefing in Crawford."
"Here's the real problem with Condi's defense: that PDB [i.e., the August 6, 2001, President's Daily Briefing Memo] was not issued in a vacuum. Warnings of some 'spectacular' terrorist attack had been building since May of 2001. Those warnings reached a crescendo in late July. It was against that background that the PDB was issued.
"Rice would have everyone believe that the PDB was an isolated document; that, taken alone, it indicated nothing. But reasonably intelligent people can see that the sum total of what was going on that summer pointed to the need for more vigorous action. Yet, the administration did nothing.
"If Condi Rice and the rest of the administration are incapable of seeing such obvious patterns as those preceding 9/11, they are incapable of defending this country. If they did see those patterns yet chose to ignore them in favor of taking month-long vacations, they are guilty of criminal negligence."
  • Bush is soon to visit Ireland. The usual misinformation surrounds his visit and speculation is rife as to where he will stay. He is due to visit Killarney Co. Kerry. Here are some hotels in which he may stay. (posted June 3, 2004)

Texas Retreat

In America's version of the movie Good Will Hunting, "President Bush lacks Hunting's brilliance but he's got the aggression and destruction mastered. He insults, dismisses, attacks, denies and disappears - usually to his ranch in Texas, where he has so far spent 20 percent of his presidency on vacation." --Reggie Rivers, Denver Post, August 5, 2005.

Resources and articles

Related SourceWatch articles

References

  1. Julie Mason, "Bush on track to become the vacation president," Houston Chronicle, August 9, 2007.
  2. Pam Spaulding, "It's hard work - Bush has taken 418 vacation days, that's nine weeks a year," AMERICAblog, August 12, 2007.