News doesn't take a vacation
Published: August 25, 2009
For the entire year, the White House, the Pentagon, the State Department, and members of Congress have pointed to the August elections in Afghanistan as a major benchmark that would tell us a lot about the state of the country, its security, its commitment to governance, the validity of its leaders, and the next World Series victors, you name it.
But when election week came, Defense Secretary Robert Gates took off for vacation. So did his press secretary, Geoff Morrell, and Pentagon press spokesman Bryan Whitman.
Point taken. Message to reporters: Afghanistan election result reaction is not a Defense Department bag, it's the White House's, and you're not getting anything out of the Pentagon this week. The news is in Afghanistan.
White House reporters traveling with the president on Martha's Vinyard - what a gig! - complained on Twitter that when he did make news today, by re-nominating the Fed chief in a short podium speech, Obama took no questions.
We couldn't even get a podium walk-up from Gates. We don't get to travel with him. In fact ,nobody knows where he is. His vacation destination could be either Paradise Island, Bahamas, or the underground bunker Dick Cheney used to frequent. I like to think he is riding Space Mountain over and over in pure vacation glee, but I also think the Florida State Seminoles will win the BCS this year, so what do I know.
Hey, it's August in Washington, which means the town is empty of everyone but skeleton crews, tourist buses and a lovely stagnant haze of humidity. My commute is half as long, the halls of Pentagon High School are creepy quiet, and supposedly "nothing" happens that's news.
So it made sense to schedule Gates and President Obama to take much-earned vacations in August, when news is slow.
And by slow, I mean Afghanistan on the brink of a presidential election fraud crisis, bombers striking across Iraq, the Federal Reserve, CIA interrogations and the Justice Department...hell, the Washington Redskins! - all major stories this week around town.
On Thursday, Afghan election day, President Obama gave the all-important elections the 10-minute treatment, reading a statement on the South Lawn on his way to his helicopter. (He talked more a few days ealier in a general speech to the VFW.)
On Sunday, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Adm. Mike Mullen and U.S. ambassador Karl Eikenberry did the Sunday talk show rounds. But their responses largely skirted the election fallout, as results had not come in yet and what could they say. And neither of them carries the weight of Secretary Gates.
But the highest administration official giving the most (and most interesting) quotes representing the U.S. reaction to the election outcome and taking journalists around is not Mullen, Gates, or Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.
It's Amb. Richard Holbrooke, the president's chief envoy on Afghanistan and Pakistan. He works out of the White House and he was in Afghanistan and the region all last week for the big day. I recommend a hearty Google search of the articles reporters on his trip have filed.
Holbrooke is on his way home and this morning he told reporters with him that some early returns are not enough to declare a winner, so it's not over yet.
No word when his vacation starts.