Bush Works to Clear Debris--But in Crawford

Bush is busy, as much of the world is, trying to clear debris, but Bush is doing so on his ranch in Texas. Bush is on vacation--something that he will only cut short or put aside during a Presidential campaign.

Skeptics said the initial aid sums -- as well as Bush's decision at first to remain cloistered on his Texas ranch for the Christmas holiday rather than speak in person about the tragedy -- showed scant appreciation for the magnitude of suffering and for the rescue and rebuilding work facing such nations as Sri Lanka, India, Thailand and Indonesia.

After a day of repeated inquiries from reporters about his public absence, Bush late yesterday afternoon announced plans to hold a National Security Council meeting by teleconference to discuss several issues, including the tsunami, followed by a short public statement.

Bush's deepened public involvement puts him more in line with other world figures. In Germany, Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder cut short his vacation and returned to work in Berlin because of the Indian Ocean crisis, which began with a gigantic underwater earthquake. In Britain, the predominant U.S. voice speaking about the disaster was not Bush but former president Bill Clinton, who in an interview with the BBC said the suffering was like something in a "horror movie," and urged a coordinated international response.

Earlier yesterday, White House spokesman Trent Duffy said the president was confident he could monitor events effectively without returning to Washington or making public statements in Crawford, where he spent part of the day clearing brush and bicycling. Explaining the about-face, a White House official said: "The president wanted to be fully briefed on our efforts. He didn't want to make a symbolic statement about 'We feel your pain.' "

This is the leader of the free world?

The Washington Post reporters John Harris and Robin Wright recall the international outpouring of support after 9/11. My relatives in India were raising money to help America during that time. And the international expressions of concern I received from people I knew in Germany, Turkey, and India were all heartfelt and encouraging. But our President, the Compassionate Conservative, sees these as gimmicks--crocodile tears, insincere expressions of compassion.

There was an international outpouring of support after the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, and even some administration officials familiar with relief efforts said they were surprised that Bush had not appeared personally to comment on the tsunami tragedy. "It's kind of freaky," a senior career official said.

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