- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 1, 2009

It was a wistful New Year’s Eve for the leader of the free world Wednesday, as President Bush wound down his administration’s last year-end celebration by reflecting on his time in office and beginning the process of saying goodbye to the nation.

With less than three weeks left in office, Mr. Bush issued a statement from his ranch in Crawford, Texas, on a day that he said represented “an opportunity to remember the events of the past and look forward with hope to the year ahead.”

“As my time in office comes to a close, I thank the American people for trusting me with the honor of serving our great country. It has been a tremendous privilege, and together, we have accomplished a great deal,” the president said.

But the day was far from sleepy for Mr. Bush, who received his usual daily intelligence briefing, and then made phone calls to several foreign leaders in global hot spots.

He spoke to Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert about the ongoing air strikes being conducted in the Gaza Strip against the Palestinian terrorist group Hamas and received assurances from Mr. Olmert that the Israelis are trying to minimize civilian casualties.

Mr. Bush also spoke to the leaders of India and Pakistan, trying to ease long-simmering tensions between the two nations that have been stoked recently by a terrorist attack in Mumbai and subsequent troop movements by both countries along the border.

Mr. Bush and first lady Laura Bush were to spend what a spokesman said would be a “quiet evening” at the ranch with longtime friends from Texas.

The president was expected to go to bed at his normal time — about 10 p.m. — instead of staying up to ring in the new year.

But he was planning to wake up before dawn on Thursday to see the first sunrise of 2009.

“It’s been a tradition they’ve had for, I think, almost their entire presidency down here — woken up and gone for a sunrise walk on the ranch,” said White House spokesman Gordon Johndroe. “And I think it’s something they’ve always enjoyed doing.”

Speaking to reporters in front of a blue-cloth backdrop in the auditorium of Crawford Elementary School, Mr. Johndroe waxed sentimental as he closed out the last press briefing at “the Western White House.”

“This is my last briefing from here. It is probably my last briefing from here forever,” he said.

“We’ll always have fond memories of everything that took place here in Crawford during the presidency, from all the various world leader meetings and standing in an auditorium, I think, with Tony Blair one time and Vladimir Putin one time here speaking to the schoolchildren of Crawford, Texas,” Mr. Johndroe said.

The Crawford ranch, he said, “was a place they could come and relax, get out of the spotlight a little bit - although the presidency follows you everywhere.”

Mr. and Mrs. Bush were scheduled to return to Washington on Thursday afternoon. After he leaves office on Jan. 20, Mr. Bush will return with Mrs. Bush to Texas, where they will split time between the ranch and a newly purchased home in Dallas.

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