(CNSNews.com) - President Obama may have been reluctant to cancel his South America trip because this week is spring break for the private Sidwell Friends school, which his daughters attend.
This year, despite the onset of U.S. hostilities with Libya and criticism that he should have stayed in Washington, President Obama went ahead with his planned state visit to Brazil, Chile and El Salvador, accompanied by his children, wife and mother-in-law.
It was a different story last year.
Obama had planned to bring his family to Indonesia and Australia during spring break 2010, but that trip was postponed (and finally canceled three months later) because the president wanted to be in Washington during a critical vote on health care legislation.
Instead of going to Indonesia and Australia as planned in March 2010, Mrs. Obama took her daughters and mother to New York City for a Broadway play and some sight-seeing.
This year, the White House began defending Obama’s South America trip a few days before he left Washington:
“The president is taking this trip because he is committed to growing the economy [and] rebalancing our national security posture,” White House press secretary Jay Carney said on March 16 in response to a question on whether -- given the crises in Japan and Libya -- Obama should consider postponing or canceling the South American trip. “He remains confident he can fully execute his job when he is on the road,” Carney added.
The Associated Press described Obama as engaging in “split-screen leadership” – juggling his economic agenda and tourism in Brazil to accommodate “the demands of U.S. military action” in Libya.
"From the start," the AP reported on March 20, "Obama’s attention has been divided. He’s been forced to shuttle from meetings with his host, [Brazilian] President Dilma Rousseff, and with Brazilian and U.S. executives to briefings and secure calls with his national security team."
Press photos showed the president taking in tourist sites with his family and attending a formal state dinner in Chile on Monday night.
Daniel Restrepo, a White House national security adviser, said on Sunday that the dual images of Obama touring Rio de Janiero while directing military operations in Libya "illustrated his commitment to reaching out to Latin American neighbors.”
“Making sure that we’re staying vigilant and the president is working those issues while he’s working a whole range of issues is not an incongruous message,” the AP quoted Restrepo as saying.