In an attempt to contain the violence between Israel and Lebanon, the White House is keeping President Bush as far from the crisis as possible. The plan has ben so successful that the President has not even made a call to Israeli prime minister Ehud Olmert since fighting broke out with Lebanon two weeks ago.
“The President has had a hard time lately,” said one handler. “Let's compare it to a pitcher who suddenly can't throw strikes anymore. We're talking nowhere near the strike zone. Real weird, erratic, mental type stuff. Then you know his head is the problem so you sit him for a week or two, let him relax, re-focus. That's what we're trying to do here.”
In order to still appear active on the situation the White House has sent Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice to the region. Rice is working on creating cease fire conditions both sides can work on, although Lebanon rejected the initial proposal.
President Bush has been noticeably inconspicuous after the G8 summet where he was heard commenting on the new wave of Middle Eastern violence to British Prime Minister Tony Blair. Bush gnawed on a roll while surmising that to end the conflict Hezbollah just needed to stop launching rockets into Israel.
“Based on those remarks we knew the President needed a break," said an administration official. "Things are getting really heated over there, we've sent more troops to secure Baghdad, and now Israel is invading Lebanon...it's all too much. We've suggested some R&R for the Commander n' Chief. He was in this thing up to his elbows, you know? It was time for a break.”
Bush began an 11 day vacation Friday at his ranch in Crawford, Texas, which, incidentally, staffers also calculated to be as far away from Lebanon as possible. According to White House Press Secretary Tony Snow Bush signed off on a U.N. Resolution draft aimed at ending the fighting between Israel and Lebanon but he was not directly involved in the final negotiations, leaving the discussions up to his diplomats. Bush got his regular daily national security briefings while at the ranch, but has spent most of his time biking, clearing brush and otherwise relaxing, aides said.
“He came out Friday with that light blue shirt, sleeves rolled up, and I knew immediately he was ready to clear some brush,” said one aid. “He puts that shirt on during major gaffs in his presidency, clearing brush is therapeutic to him. It's how he heals. To us it's a way to keep him busy while experts solve the problem.”
August is traditionally when the President vacations in Crawford, usually taking most of the month to recover from a previous year's work. Last year Bush was criticized for being slow to respond to Hurricane Katrina which destroyed New Orleans and left thousands stranded on August 29. Bush was vacationing in Texas at the time.
The President was also vacationing on August 6, 2001 when he received a memo entitled "Bin Ladden Determined to Attack the US." Bush resolved to stay the course and remained on vacation for the rest of the month.
"It's kind of a catch-22," one aid explained. "Either he vacations and things get messed up while he clears brush, or he's in the White House messing things up. You just can't win sometimes. This year we felt a vacation was the lesser of the two evils."
The President will be safely distracted until at least Monday, August 14, in what has also then become an unspoken end-date for any forward progress in the Middle East.