Will he or won't he? That's the question. Only George can tell us, and he isn't talking. Washington in August has never been April in Paris. The town shuts down. The president beats the heat for the month, and all subordinates, mighty and lowly, are thereby authorized to schedule their vacations simultaneously. It was to be the same this year but for that unpleasantness with Iraq.

As of yesterday, the president had not yet decided whether to cancel his plans to leave for his Maine summer retreat. His indecision has left his aides, factotums and hangers-on in limbo. Some already have postponed their vacations. Some have their travel agents on hold.

The phenomenon has extended from government workers to other crisis watchers.

"We were all looking forward to August 10, the day the president was to depart for Kennebunkport," reports Timothy Russert, NBC senior vice president and Washington bureau chief. "Now we're at the height of a crisis and no one is making plans beyond 48 hours. Every available correspondent and producer is just waiting."

President Bush could pilot the crisis effectively from Kennebunkport, of course. But it is assumed he wouldn't go unless he thought the situation was stabilizing. The president, it is thought, would not want to appear to be vacationing if Americans were in combat.

So people watch and wait.

Secretary of State James Baker, and his aides Margaret Tutwiler and Dennis Ross, were all scheduled to leave for vacation tomorrow. Instead, they left for Turkey yesterday in an effort to enlist that country's support.

"People here are canceling vacations left and right," says CIA spokesman Mark Mansfield. "Judge {William} Webster is taking it one day at a time." The CIA director canceled two speeches in Chicago this week, and is waiting to see if he can still attend a seminar on an undisclosed topic at an undisclosed location next week.

NBC anchor Tom Brokaw already missed a family reunion in Oregon this week, as well as a fishing trip. And CBS top dog Dan Rather bolted from his vacation in France for the Mideast.

Paul Wolfowitz, undersecretary of defense for policy, canceled his vacation to head for Saudi Arabia, where the United States has dispatched troops.

Congressional leaders say their recess plans won't be disturbed. "We just need to be a phone call away," says an aide to House Speaker Tom Foley.

Chief of Staff John Sununu is scheduled to head for his home in New Hampshire Saturday but is waiting on George.

But even if the president did head up to Walker's Point, there's no guarantee his subordinates, mighty and lowly, would be set free.

For now, they just wait. An announcement from the White House, one way or the other, is expected tonight.