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Obama skips Polish funeral, heads to golf course

- The Washington Times - Sunday, April 18, 2010

A massive volcanic plume covering most of Europe forced President Obama to cancel a Sunday trip to Poland to attend the funeral of the nation's president. But the last-minute change left an opening in his schedule, so the president headed to the links for a round of golf instead.

On a cool but sun-drenched Sunday, the president and three golfing companions went to Andrews Air Force Base to play 18 holes. It is the 32nd time Mr. Obama has played golf since taking office Jan. 20, 2009, according to CBS Radio's Mark Knoller.

After canceling the Poland trip on Saturday, the White House announced that Mr. Obama had no public schedule for Sunday. He was to have arrived in Krakow in the morning, attend the 2 p.m. funeral and leave for home by 5 p.m., arriving back at the White House after midnight.

Polish President Lech Kaczynski and his wife, Maria, along with dozens of top Polish government officials were killed April 10 when their airplane went down in heavy fog after clipping a tree on approach to Smolensk, Russia.

Mr. Obama has not gone to the Polish Embassy in Washington since the accident, but Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. both have. There, they signed a condolence book.

Mr. Obama was not the only world leader to miss the funeral because of the expanding volcanic ash cloud. French President Nicolas Sarkozy and German Chancellor Angela Merkel also canceled.

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev, however, flew by plane from Moscow for the funeral.

Other foreign leaders used different modes of transportation to get there. Slovenian President Danilo Turk decided to drive the 500 miles to Krakow. Romanian President Traian Basescu traveled to northwestern Romania by helicopter and then continue by car through Hungary and Slovakia.

Estonian Prime Minister Andrus Ansip made the 18-hour drive to the funeral, while Czech Republic President Vaclav Klaus made the trip by car and train. Former Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko left Kiev with his wife at 7 a.m. Saturday for the long road trip.

Mr. Obama has played golf far more often than former President George W. Bush. In his eight years in office, Mr. Bush played just 24 times. His last time as president was Oct. 13, 2003.

He said in 2008 that he gave up golf "in solidarity" with the families of soldiers who were dying in Iraq.

"I don't want some mom whose son may have recently died to see the commander in chief playing golf," Mr. Bush said in a White House interview Saturday with the Politico. "I feel I owe it to the families to be as — to be in solidarity as best as I can with them. And I think playing golf during a war just sends the wrong signal."

He stopped playing after he received word of a deadly attack in Iraq while playing golf during a stay at the family ranch near Crawford, Texas.

"They pulled me off the golf course, and I said it's just not worth it anymore to do," Mr. Bush said in the interview.

Since Mr. Obama took office, 397 soldiers have died in Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan. Another 151 have died in Operation Iraqi Freedom.