Obama, as a candidate and now as president has tended to let tenuous dramas unfold without remark unless he absolutely must, lest his words or actions adversely influence a precarious situation.
WASHINGTON — True to form, President Barack Obama is striking a cautious, low-profile public stance as the piracy crisis plays out.
As the situation changes by the hour, Obama advisers say the new commander in chief is being kept abreast of the developments, including Capt. Richard Phillips' foiled escape attempt Friday. But the president has yet to say a word in public about the standoff, now entering its fourth day.
The approach is quintessential Obama, who as a candidate and now as president has tended to let tenuous dramas unfold without remark unless he absolutely must, lest his words or actions adversely influence a precarious situation.
"I like to know what I'm talking about before I speak," Obama said pointedly last month when a reporter questioned why it took him several days to express outrage over the big bonuses American International Group doled out while receiving federal bailout money.
In the current case, direct involvement by a president also could elevate the already high international stakes.
Asked by reporters about the piracy Thursday, Obama declined to respond. Same again on Friday.
Advisers say he's leaving the heavy lifting — and, clearly, the commenting — to high-level administration officials and his military commanders.
They haven't had all that much to say either, though they have been offering the nation assurances that the government is pressing to free Phillips.
Vice President Joe Biden said the administration was working "around the clock" on the matter. Attorney General Eric Holder said the United States will "do what we have to do" to protect U.S. shipping interests against pirates. And Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said, "We are bringing to bear a number of our assets, including naval and FBI, in order to resolve the hostage situation and bring the pirates to justice."
In West Palm Beach, Fla., Gen. David Petraeus, head of the U.S. Central Command, said the military will increase its presence near the Horn of Africa "to ensure that we have all the capability that might be needed over the course of the coming days."
Somali pirates tried to hijack the U.S.-flagged Maersk Alabama on Wednesday, but the cargo ship crew regained control of the vessel. Even so, the pirates escaped on one of the ship's lifeboats and took Phillips, of Underhill, Vt., hostage.
Obama learned of the unfolding crisis in the pre-dawn hours on Wednesday, shortly after returning from an eight-day trip to Europe and Iraq.
On Thursday, the second day of the incident, the White House portrayed Obama's role as an attentive listener who was getting frequent progress reports — but not getting directly involved in operations.
White House press secretary Robert Gibbs put the focus on an interagency group on maritime safety that includes representatives from the departments of State, Homeland Security, Commerce, Energy, Defense and Transportation, as well as the FBI and the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
"The president has followed the situation closely, has gotten updates throughout yesterday and today," Gibbs said Thursday. "And, obviously, his main concern is for the safety of the captain and the rest of the crew on the ship. And he will continue to receive those updates."
Asked if that was the extent of Obama's involvement, Gibbs said: "At this point, he's staying apprised of the situation."
"Obviously, the Navy and the FBI are to some degree on the scene with their resources," Gibbs added. "And so the resources of our government are deployed in ensuring the safety and security of the captain and the crew."
The president who took office in January has proved willing in many cases to field off-the-cuff questions from reporters at the close of events at the White House, even on matters differing from his focus that day.
But not in this case.
When reporters asked the president directly about the incident on Thursday, he demurred. Instead, he stayed on his message of the day, saying: "Guys, we're talking about housing right now."At the end of a White House meeting with his economic advisers on Friday, reporters asked when the Obama girls' dog was arriving. He laughed and said, "Oh man, now that's top secret." He also said he looked forward to seeing the reporters at Monday's Easter egg roll.
They asked about the pirates. No answer.