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No good time for vacation - Obama taking less days off than predecessors

Published:Monday | August 25, 2014 | 12:00 AM
President Barack Obama (right) follows through on a swing while hitting on the fairway as former NBA basketball player Alonzo Mourning, left, looks on as they golf at Farm Neck Golf Club in Oak Bluffs, Massachusetts, on the island of Martha's Vineyard last Saturday. - AP

CHILMARK, Massachusetts (AP):

President Barack Obama has spent less time away from the White House than his predecessors. But his two-week break on the resort island of Martha's Vineyard and hours on the golf course have his detractors teeing up as they highlight the slew of foreign-policy crises facing the United States right now.

The criticism has the president's aides confronting an annual summer question: Is there ever a good time for the commander in chief to take a few days off?

Since becoming president, Obama has taken 20 vacations lasting two to 15 days. As of August 12, he spent all or part of 138 days on 'vacation'.

By the same point in his second term, President George W. Bush spent 381 partial or complete days at his ranch in Crawford, Texas, and another 26 days at the Bush family compound in Kennebunkport, Maine, according to CBS News reporter Mark Knoller's widely respected record keeping on the presidency. Other recent American leaders also spent more time away.

But images of Obama playing leisurely rounds of golf as the US military strikes Islamist militants in northern Iraq have been jarring to some, particularly his fiercest national security critics. After delivering an angry statement last Wednesday condemning the beheading of American journalist James Foley by the so-called Islamic State, Obama headed straight to the greens.

"Every day, we find new evidence that he'd rather be on the golf course than he would be dealing with the crisis that's developing rapidly in the Middle East," former Vice-president Dick Cheney told Fox News this week.

LOVE FOR GOLF

Obama, well known for his love of golf, has played eight rounds since arriving on the Massachusetts island 12 days ago. He went golfing last week after addressing the nation from his vacation home on developments in Iraq and the civil unrest in the St Louis suburb of Ferguson, Missouri, linked to the fatal shooting of a black 18-year-old by a white police officer.

He plays most weekends when he is at the White House, joining many of his predecessors who also enjoyed the game.

With the US military engaged in Iraq, struggling to secure a ceasefire between Israel and Hamas militants in Gaza and ease tensions between Russia and Ukraine, the White House released photos of Obama early in the vacation being briefed by top aides, including national security adviser Susan Rice and Attorney General Eric Holder. Other images captured him on the telephone consulting with world leaders.

Obama's aides counter criticism of his vacations by saying he travels with what essentially is a mini-White House. The entourage comes complete with top advisers and senior staff, and communications equipment needed to do the job from wherever he may be.

Obama also interrupted his vacation, returning to the White House for meetings last Monday and Tuesday. The break was planned long before US airstrikes in Iraq started or Ferguson, Missouri, became a hotbed of civil unrest in the days after the August 9 shooting of Michael Brown.

Obama resumed his vacation on Tuesday. He leaves the island Sunday. Other presidents have vacationed during foreign policy flare-ups.