"Catastrophic." "Pretty sad." "Absurd."

That's how people have variously described President Obama's decision to stick mostly to his planned schedule on Tuesday despite the terrorist attacks in Belgium hours earlier.

Obama tried to preempt criticism in an interview during a baseball game between the Tampa Bay Rays and the Cuban national team in Havana that afternoon, but to little effect: Conservatives pounced, with the Republican presidential field weighing in and the conversation extending into Wednesday morning.

"This man's job is to be the leader of the free world, which means the leader of NATO," Rudy Giuliani, a persistent Obama critic and former New York City mayor, said on MSNBC. "Here we have an attack which the prime minister of France is willing to call a war, an Islamic terrorist war against us.... War against a NATO ally is a war against us, and this man is communicating, if he had to communicate at all, he's communicating from a communist country. How absurd is that?"

On Fox News Tuesday night, Giuliani went further, likening the Brussels attacks to the 1941 Japanese strike on American soil that changed the course of World War II.

“That would be like Franklin Roosevelt remaining at Warm Springs when the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor,” he said, suggesting that the United States has an obligation to defend fellow NATO members. "It's just like an attack on us."

White House officials have said in the past that there's little to gain from altering the president's schedule whenever a crisis hits, and Obama defended his decision on Tuesday, arguing that the "whole premise of terrorism is to disrupt people’s lives."

"That’s the resilience and strength we need to show in the face of the terrorists," he said. "They cannot defeat America."

At the same time, Obama seemed to anticipate what could come next: "It's always a challenge when you have a terrorist attack anywhere in the world, particularly in this age of 24/7 news coverage," he said.


Nicolle Wallace, onetime communications director to former president George W. Bush, appeared on MSNBC and described the optics of Obama's decision as "catastrophic," though her tone was more sympathetic than critical.

"George W. Bush, among many people, never recovered from the optics of the morning of Sept. 11 when he stayed in the classroom," she said. "I'm not making a partisan statement when I say that the optics of [Obama's] day yesterday were catastrophic from a White House communications standpoint. There are still Americans missing this morning. He had no way of knowing when he went to the baseball game that all the American people who were in Brussels yesterday were alive or not."

Former National Security Agency director Michael Hayden defended Obama's decision.

"That wasn't a mistake. That wasn't weakness," he said on MSNBC. "That was policy, his going to the ballpark and his spending less than a minute commenting on the attack. I actually believe in his heart of hearts, the president's policy is: That is not that big a deal. There are other things that are more important. And that was what he was messaging."

But others were less sympathetic.

“I think it’s a pretty sad day for U.S. leadership,” Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn, a former Defense Intelligence Agency director, said on Fox News on Wednesday morning. “I think while President Obama wants to bury the Cold War from Havana, Cuba, we’re in the middle of a very, very hot war.”

The criticism is just the latest in a long history of complaints over how Obama spends his time.

In December, Trump chided him for playing "more golf last year than Tiger Woods." Two years ago, he faced fierce criticism for vacationing amid a number of crises.

Other presidents have been similarly scolded. Bush was frequently accused of spending too much time at his ranch in Crawford, Tex. And he, too, suffered attacks for playing golf at inopportune times — not to mention initially not cutting his vacation short in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. He even defended Obama against such criticism several years ago.

"I think he ought to play golf," Bush told the Golf Channel in 2013. "Because I know what it's like to be in the bubble. I know the pressures of the job, and to be able to get outside and play golf with some of your pals is important for the president. It does give you an outlet."

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