On the eve of his departure late last week, Obama authorized airstrikes in Iraq to beat back Islamist militants from committing genocide. Then as he wrapped up his first round of golf on the Massachusetts island Saturday night, The Atlantic interview with Hillary Clinton hit the Web, sparking days of speculation about the fraying Clinton-Obama relationship.
The White House thought it might get beyond the frenzy du jour on Wednesday night when it released much-anticipated details of their interaction at a birthday party — they toasted the guest of honor and even sat close to each other!
But by midnight, as protests over a fatal police shooting in Ferguson, Missouri, spun out of control, a White House spokesman posted on Twitter that Obama had been briefed on the situation. And early Thursday afternoon, Obama was back in front of the cameras, delivering his fourth statement on chaotic world events since his vacation began.
Obama “appears to be on the vacation from hell,” quipped CNN legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin moments before Obama pleaded for peace and calm in Ferguson.
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Nobody really can feel sorry for the guy. He’s the leader of the free world. Stuff happens. Before he even left for Martha’s Vineyard, White House officials had announced that Obama would return to Washington on Sunday for two days of meetings, though they still won’t say what’s exactly important enough to interrupt his vacation. So it’s not as if he were getting a full two weeks off to begin with.
But within the White House, these precious few breaks from Washington are highly valued, both by the president and his staff. After an unusually quiet Christmas vacation in Hawaii last year, aides marveled at how clear-headed and energized Obama seemed upon his return. The vacation was a mental lifesaver for the place, clearing the slate following a difficult few months.
This time, not so much.
Reporters pressed White House spokesman Eric Schultz this week on whether the Martha’s Vineyard vacation actually felt like a vacation to the president.
“I think it’s fair to say there are, of course, ongoing complicated situations in the world, and that’s why you’ve seen the president stay engaged,” Schultz said Wednesday.
Schultz ran down a list of the work the president has done. He’s received multiple national security briefings. He’s talked with Turkish Prime Minister Erdogan, Ukrainian President Poroshenko, Canadian Prime Minister Harper and Italian Prime Minister Renzi on the chaos in Syria, Iraq, Libya, Ukraine and Gaza. Oh, and also on the Ebola outbreak in West Africa.
Obama had a reportedly testy phone call with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. The president also spoke with Clinton, who reached out to say that her pointed rebuke of his foreign policy in The Atlantic was not intended “to attack him, his policies or his leadership.” He attended a fundraiser for the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee.
“So I think, as many have observed over the past few days, there’s never a perfect time for the president to take some time away with his family,” Schultz said. “But I think we can also all agree that it’s valuable to recharge your batteries. And I just don’t think the American people begrudge their president for taking some downtime with his family.”
It hasn’t been all bad. Obama got the chance to tout the administration’s success in helping Iraq’s Yazidi religious minority escape from Mount Sinjar, which had been surrounded by fighters from the Islamic State.
And he is managing to squeeze in quite a bit of leisure time. He’s dined out with close friends. He’s hung out on the beach with his family. He’s played three rounds of golf.
On Thursday, he went from the podium where he delivered the statement on Ferguson to the Vineyard Golf Club faster than a ball driven by a 3-wood.
Obama departed the Edgartown School at 1 p.m. Four minutes later, he had arrived at the course.