CHILMARK, Mass. (AP) — President Barack Obama has spent less time away from the White House than his predecessors. But his two-week break on the resort island of Martha's Vineyard and hours on the golf course have his detractors teeing up as they highlight the slew of foreign policy crises facing the United States right now.
The criticism has the president's aides confronting an annual summer question: Is there ever a good time for the commander in chief to take a few days off?
Since becoming president, Obama has taken 20 vacations lasting two to 15 days. As of Aug. 12, he spent all or part of 138 days on "vacation."
By the same point in his second term, President George W. Bush spent 381 partial or complete days at his ranch in Crawford, Texas, and another 26 days at the Bush family compound in Kennebunkport, Maine, according to CBS News reporter Mark Knoller's widely respected record keeping on the presidency. Other recent American leaders also spent more time away.
But images of Obama playing leisurely rounds of golf as the U.S. military strikes Islamist militants in northern Iraq have been jarring to some, particularly his fiercest national security critics. After delivering an angry statement Wednesday condemning the beheading of American journalist James Foley by the so-called Islamic State, Obama headed straight to the greens.
"Every day, we find new evidence that he'd rather be on the golf course than he would be dealing with the crisis that's developing rapidly in the Middle East," former Vice President Dick Cheney told Fox News this week.
Obama, well known for his love of golf, has played eight rounds since arriving on the Massachusetts island 12 days ago. He went golfing last week after addressing the nation from his vacation home on developments in Iraq and the civil unrest in the St. Louis suburb of Ferguson, Missouri, linked to the fatal shooting of a black 18-year-old by a white police officer.
He plays most weekends when he is at the White House, joining many of his predecessors who also enjoyed the game.
Some of the negative reaction reflects that the White House occasionally allows media to photograph the president when he is playing golf. By contrast, there are no photos of him playing basketball or his regular gym workout.
With the U.S. engaged military in Iraq, struggling to secure a ceasefire between Israel and Hamas militants in Gaza and ease tensions between Russia and Ukraine, the White House released photos of Obama early in the vacation being briefed by top aides including national security adviser Susan Rice and Attorney General Eric Holder. Other images captured him on the telephone consulting with world leaders.
Obama's aides counter criticism of his vacations by saying he travels with what essentially is a mini-White House. The entourage comes complete with top advisers and senior staff, and communications equipment needed to do the job from wherever he may be.
Cheney contrasted Obama's continued vacation with British Prime Minister David Cameron suddenly returning to London during his time off.
Cameron returned from vacation in Portugal to chair an emergency gathering on the humanitarian crisis in northern Iraq. He departed this week on the second part of his scheduled vacation to Cornwall, in southwest England, but headed back just a day later for crisis meetings after Foley's death. Cameron resumed his vacation the following day.
Obama also interrupted his vacation, returning to the White House for meetings Monday and Tuesday. The break was planned long before U.S. airstrikes in Iraq started or Ferguson, Missouri, became a hotbed of civil disobedience in the days after the Aug. 9 shooting of Michael Brown.
Obama resumed his vacation on Tuesday. He leaves the island Sunday.
Other presidents have vacationed during foreign policy flare-ups.
President George H.W. Bush took a three-week break in Maine in 1990 after ordering the U.S. military to turn back Saddam Hussein's Iraqi forces in Kuwait. He swatted away questions about Persian Gulf action while on the golf course, later saying "I just don't like taking questions on serious matters on my vacation . . . I hope you'll understand when I'm recreating, I will recreate. And when we're working, which I'm trying up here, I'll work hard."
In 2002, President George W. Bush also was on the golf course when he reacted to terrorist bombings in Israel, saying: "I call upon all nations to do everything they can to stop these terrorist killers. Thank you. Now watch this drive."
Bush later gave up playing golf after the U.S. military death toll in Iraq began to rise.
Bush has defended Obama's fondness for golf.
Associated Press writers Jim Kuhnhenn in Edgartown, Massachusetts, and Jill Lawless in London contributed to this report.