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Posted at 12:18 PM ET, 05/15/2008

Golf-gate!

By Michael Dobbs


Kennebunkport, Maine, July 6, 2002.

"I don't want some mom whose son may have recently died to see the Commander-in-Chief playing golf. 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. ... I remember when [Sergio Vieira] de Mello, who was at the U.N., got killed in Baghdad as a result of these murderers taking this good man's life. And I was playing golf -- I think I was in central Texas -- and they pulled me off the golf course and I said, 'it's just not worth it anymore to do.' "
--George Bush, interview with Politico,

The president is taking a lot of heat for his claim, in an interview with Politico, that he gave up golf "in solidarity" with the families of service members killed in Iraq and elsewhere. He said he made the decision following the assassination of the United Nations representative in Iraq, Sergio Vieira de Mello, on August 19, 2003. But there are a few problems with his chronology.

The Facts

George W. Bush played golf fairly regularly when he first became president, both before and after the invasion of Iraq in March 2003. Golf professionals praised him for his "smooth swing" and his 15 handicap. He would sometimes interrupt his golf game for impromptu back and forth with reporters, as on this occasion, on August 4, 2002, in Kennebunkport, Maine, when he denounced the latest suicide bombings in Israel.

After calling on "all nations to do everything they can to stop these terrorist killers," Bush returned to the business at hand with barely a pause. "Thank you. Now watch this drive."

He was playing golf near his Crawford, Tex., ranch, five months after the invasion of Iraq when the shocking news arrived of the bomb attack on United Nations headquarters in Baghdad, and the death of the U.N. representative, Sergio de Mello. On this occasion, Bush interrupted his golf game on the 11th tee and returned to the ranch to put on a suit before denouncing the bombers as "enemies of the civilized world."

Bush played golf at least two times at Andrews Air Force Base in Maryland after de Mello's death. The first occasion was on Sept. 28, when his partners included Sen. Don Nickles (R-Okla) and Rep. John Boehner (R-Ohio), according to an AP report. The next occasion was on Columbus Day, Oct. 13, when he played with his old Andover/Yale chum, Clay Johnson, and Richard Hauser, general counsel with the Department of Housing and Urban Development. According to the AP, his tee-off shot went into the rough.

Some bloggers have speculated that Bush's real reason for giving up golf is connected with his knee problems, which flared up in December 2003, and caused him to abandon his normal jogging routine.

The Pinocchio Test

I am not competent to judge the real reason for President Bush's decision to give up golf. But the fact that he played golf twice after the assassination of de Mello casts doubt on the explanation he gave to Politico. If the White House provides any further elaboration, I will post it.

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By Michael Dobbs  | May 15, 2008; 12:18 PM ET
Categories:  Gov Watch, History  
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