Bush to Israel: Nothing

Stay the course or stay away?

Published July 14, 2006 6:33PM (EDT)

George W. Bush is apparently open to scaling back his usual summer vacation in Crawford, Texas, in order to look more engaged with his job, but it seems that he'll take this whole hands-on presidency idea only so far. On a day on which Israeli airplanes hit the home and office of Hezbollah's leader, White House press secretary Tony Snow revealed that the president hasn't actually, you know, talked to anyone in the Israeli government about its widening military campaign in Lebanon.

Asked whether Bush has any plans to speak to Israeli officials, Snow said: "At this point -- look, I think -- the Israeli leaders have been consulted, and they've been consulted by the secretary of state and the national security advisor. And they'll continue their conversations, and there is no -- I dont want to say there's no need, I'd just say the president has not expressed any plans to speak with the prime minister, but should it become necessary, he will." And with that, a member of the White House press corps asked Snow about the president's plans for a bike ride this afternoon.

Of course, this isn't the usual case of Bushian inattention. We assume that the president wasn't hoping for an attack on the United States when he brushed off a warning about Osama bin Laden in August 2001. And we'll presume that he wasn't looking forward to a disaster in New Orleans when he fiddled away the early days of Hurricane Katrina. But Bush hasn't picked up the phone to call Ehud Olmert precisely because he has nothing to tell him -- or, at least, nothing he wants to be seen telling him. Bush approves of what Israel is doing in Lebanon, but the White House must know that Americans find new violence in the Middle East deeply unsettling. The best way to walk that line: Stay away from it entirely.

That won't help bring an end to the crisis now unfolding. Will it help at home? For that, we'll have to wait and see; after what seemed like a turnaround in June, Bush's poll numbers seem to be headed south again.

By Tim Grieve

Tim Grieve is a senior writer and the author of Salon's War Room blog.

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