Four hours later, he offered an altogether different tableau: a
golf game with friends at a lush course on Martha's Vineyard, the
upscale Massachusetts island where the president and his family
began a two-week vacation.
The contrasting scenes, which quickly sparked some hostile
commentary from critics, illustrate the dilemma of taking time off
when you are the most powerful leader in the world and, by
definition, handling major issues all the time.
Part of the problem is dealing with appearances, or 'optics' as
Washington pundits like to call it.
With crises boiling in Gaza, Iraq and Ukraine, Obama - like his
presidential predecessors in similar circumstances - proceeded with
plans for a summer break, but only after making his Iraq statement
against the very presidential backdrop.
Administration officials made clear he would continue to do his job
even while getting some time off, and a phalanx of aides, including
national security adviser Susan Rice, came along to ensure that a
virtual Oval Office was never far away.
"The president will be traveling to Massachusetts with an array of
communications equipment and national security advisers and others
to ensure that he has the capacity to make the kinds of decisions
that are required for the Commander-in-Chief," White House spokesman
Josh Earnest told reporters on Friday.
"And if thereís a need for the president to return to the White
House, itís not a long flight from Marthaís Vineyard back to
White House officials go to great pains to show Obama is on top of
world events even when he is on fundraising trips or family
On Saturday they released statements describing calls he made to
British Prime Minister David Cameron, French President Francois
Hollande, and German Chancellor Angela Merkel. The Merkel call took
place on Air Force One during Obama's flight to Massachusetts.
The president's Republican critics have already hammered him for
going ahead with a vacation just days after authorizing airstrikes
in Iraq - the first direct U.S. military action there since the last
U.S. troops withdrew in 2011.
But White House staff allowed press photographers to take pictures
of the president with club in hand at the beginning of his Saturday
game. That is rare. Journalists seldom get to view the president
playing golf, which he does almost every weekend in Washington when
the weather is good.
The fact that reporters were given access to him on the same day as
his somber comments on Iraq showed a White House wanting to appear
immune to critics of Obama's taking time off.
[to top of second column]
THE PERILS OF GOLF
Such imagery has backfired before, however. While on vacation in
Maine in August 2002, Republican President George W. Bush reacted to
a suicide bombing in Israel from the first tee box on his golf
"I call upon all nations to do everything they can to stop
these terrorist killers. Thank you. Now, watch this drive," Bush
said before swinging his club.
The Republican president later gave up playing golf when his
popularity plummeted after the 2003 U.S. invasion of Iraq.
Obama, whose own popularity ratings in polls are among the lowest of
his presidency, is not showing signs of giving anything up.
On Monday he plans to attend a Democratic fundraiser and, if
previous vacations are a guide, he will spend the rest of his time
putting, eating dinners at upscale restaurants, and spending time
with his wife and two daughters.
This year's presidential trip to the island is longer than previous
years, when his stays have lasted just over a week. Obama, in office
since 2009, is scheduled to return to the White House on Sunday for
a couple of days of meetings before coming back to Martha's Vineyard
to finish his vacation.
Several dozen anti-Obama protesters held signs and waved at passing
vehicles on Saturday afternoon at a traffic circle near a bridge
that links Cape Cod to other parts of Massachusetts.
One sign read, "Stop Obama!" and another read, "Harboring illegals
is a felony," a reference to Obama's planned executive orders to
help undocumented immigrants.
Others voiced support for veterans of the Iraq war.
(The story adds dropped words Cape Cod in 25th paragraph)
(Additional reporting by Daniel Lovering; Editing by Frances Kerry)
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