The international political temperature surrounding Ukraine and the Crimean Peninsula is going up, not down, and tensions are running high. There are, no doubt, phone calls flashing back and forth across the globe and hasty air trips being arranged, altered or scrapped at the last minute. Clearly, this is the time for the Leader of the Free World to go to… Key Largo. Let’s face it… the weather in DC has been absolutely dismal and real Spring weather is still a ways off. What’s a golf loving world leader to do?
But fear not, campers. According to the White House staff, this is business as usual.
White House spokesman Josh Earnest defended President Obama’s weekend vacation in Key Largo, despite the ongoing crisis in Ukraine, arguing Obama would be able to monitor events from Florida.
“What the president will be doing this weekend in Florida is essentially what the president would be doing back at the White House. It’s just that the weather will be a little warmer,” Earnest told reporters aboard Air Force One.
“The president is looking forward to spending some time with his wife and daughters, who are traveling down to Florida as well,” he continued. “There are some recreational amenities on the property, including workout facilities, tennis courts, a couple of golf courses.
“If there is an opportunity for the president to enjoy some of those amenities, then he’ll do that. What he will do, and what he is looking forward to doing, is getting a little downtime in the warm weather with his wife and daughters.”
On the one hand, this is really just a question of optics. Presidents taking vacations – even in times of war – are hardly unknown. George W. Bush spent so much time at “the Western White House” that it became the stuff of legend on Saturday Night Live. And the argument that Bush’s staff used then is still true today if we’re to be honest about it. The entire staff and all of their communications gear travels with the President, so aside from being physically present to meet with Congress, there isn’t all that much he can’t do from Florida that he could in Washington.
But at this particular moment in history, the optics question may loom a bit larger than it would otherwise. Krauthammer is only one of many observers to recently point out that Vladimir Putin’s plans my be emboldened by a sense that the American President is simply weakened and does not pose any real threat to his agenda.
Can Putin be faulted for believing that if he bites off Crimea and threatens Kiev, Obama’s response will be minimal and his ability to lead the Europeans even less so?
Would Putin have lunged for Ukraine if he didn’t have such a clueless adversary? No one can say for sure. But it certainly made Putin’s decision easier.
The President of the United States is always busy and the world is rarely – if ever – completely at rest, so there will always be something going on when they go on vacation. But in this particular case, the optics of how the White House continues to respond may be more than just window dressing. It might be having a continuing effect on the decisions the Russians make and undermine our efforts and those of Europe to keep a lid on this unfolding disaster.
But if nothing else, Obama can finally work on his short game. And that should come as some relief, as he currently doesn’t seem to much of a long one in mind.