On the Plane

Flying to Israel, Wondering About New Hampshire

By Michael Abramowitz
ABOARD AIR FORCE ONE, Jan. 9--Welcome to the latest iteration of our On the Plane blog, on which I will try to offer a little extra color and analysis from President Bush's eight-day trip to the Middle East. I am writing this while literally on the plane, on Air Force One, which took off Tuesday evening from Andrews Air Force Base for the roughly 10-hour flight to Jerusalem.

I am what's known as the "print pooler" for this leg of the trip, the reporter who is supposed to file descriptions for other reporters about what the president is up to when he can't take the entire White House press corps with him. The rest of the reporters , photographers and camera crews covering Bush's trip are already in Israel, having left on a charter the night before.

They say that covering the president is akin to being inside a "bubble." Never have I felt this more than when we lifted off from Andrews, less than two hours before the results would be known from New Hampshire, the epicenter of the political world on Tuesday.

But thanks to the amazing communications capacity of Air Force One, which has a satellite feed, we here in the small press cabin were able to watch CNN reporting returns as we dined on a dinner of chicken Kiev, rice and asparagus.

Just as things were getting exciting, however, the sat feed was lost, and we were forced to wait to find out whether Hillary Clinton's lead in the early returns held up overnight!

There are 14 of us in the press pool on Air Force One: three wire reporters, myself, a magazine pooler, and a posse of photographers and television types. We are basically segregated from the rest of Bush's entourage, in a cabin of our own in the back of the plane, with Secret Service agents sitting in the cabin in front of us.

We do get the occasional visit from the senior staff in the front: Press secretary Dana Perino and Chief of Staff Josh Bolten (sporting a new beard) stopped by to say hi early in the trip. At the end of the flight, Perino wandered back with national security adviser Steve Hadley, to conduct a so-called "gaggle" about what to expect on the president's first day in Israel. No real surprises except a stern warning to Iran over its "provocative" actions in the Gulf the other day--echoing the president's own remarks from Tuesday.


National Security Advisor Stephen Hadley participates in a gaggle aboard Air Force One on Wednesday morning, Jan. 9, 2008, prior to landing in Tel Aviv. (White House photo by Eric Draper)

(You're not supposed to take pictures on Air Force One so I can't offer any visual sidebars, but its pretty comfortable back here; we all have business-class-size seats and there's a nice pair of televisions with video on demand. While CNN was unavailable, we watched "3:10 to Yuma." We do have one picture of our gaggle, taken by White House photographer Eric Draper. Your pooler is the one with his back to the camera.)

Here on the plane, it feels a bit like the lull before the storm. When we land, Bush will be off on non-stop meetings with the region's leaders, and we will be rushing from event to event. Even though the focus back home is on the primaries, this should be a pretty interesting set of visits, including not only Bush's first stop in Israel as president but also a tour of Gulf States that will include Bush spending extensive time with King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia in a rare face-to-face meeting.

There are big issues on the table--Arab-Israeli peace, the Iraq war, how to handle Iran--but the fat briefing book they gave us suggests that Bush will also be doing some sightseeing on this trip. Bush plans to visit the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem and the archeological remains at Capernaum in Galilee, among several stops along the way.

More later, when we hit the ground.

By Washington Post Editor |  January 9, 2008; 8:17 AM ET  | Trip:  Bush in Middle East, Jan. 2008
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After reading two of today's Wash. Post articles on President Bush's trip to the Middle East, and after studying the language he employed in his discourse with both leaders, Olmert and Abbas, it is doubtful that "Peace in the Middle East" will develop into anything more than the abstract slogan that it is at this moment. President Bush said of the Israeli encroachment into the West Bank that they "ought to go"; while reassuring Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, who apparently gushed praise onto President Bush earlier today, that President Abbas needed to put an immediate stop to the rocket attacks from Gaza into Israel, or risk serious consequences. He added to Olmert that "You know me well enough" to know that [he] will not hesitate to take action against the Palestinians. How can President Bush not understand that Pres. Abbas has little to no control over what happens in the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip? Bush is asking Abbas to tell people who would like to see them both wiped out, what to do. As long as there is a buddy-buddy relationship between the U.S. and Israel that basically upholds and perpetuates Zionism, while making the Palestinian Territory feel "under the gun" to comply, there really is no joint peace effort; therefore, there is only the continuation of the staus quo, and eventually there will be a Palestinian state that is half the size that it is now and there will be no Palestinians in the vicinity of Jerusalem. There needs to be more empathy toward Palestine.

Posted by: Anthony W. | January 10, 2008 12:09 PM

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