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Last Updated: Wednesday, 14 May, 2003, 12:00 GMT 13:00 UK
Bush under fire over Saudi attacks

By Jonathan Marcus
US affairs analyst

Democratic presidential hopeful Bob Graham has strongly criticised US President George Bush over the bombings in Saudi Arabia.

He said the attacks demonstrated that al-Qaeda had rebuilt itself while the Bush administration was pre-occupied with the war in Iraq.

Senator Bob Graham of Florida is a former chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee and has been a strong critic of the administration's handling of the al-Qaeda problem since the 11 September 2001 attacks.

Democratic presidential candidate Bob Graham carries a tub full of dishes at a diner in Des Moines, Iowa, 11 May 2003
Bob Graham is one of nine Democrats hoping to run for president
He opposed the war against Iraq because he believed it would divert scarce resources away from the struggle against terrorism.

And he has seized upon this week's bombings in Saudi Arabia as proof-positive that the Bush administration has taken its eye off the ball.

It is very hard to assess if there is any truth in Senator Graham's allegations.

Until this week al-Qaeda appeared to be lying low. US and Saudi intelligence officials did seem to have some reasonable warning of these attacks but were not able to halt them.

Of more interest is the political context in which Senator Graham made his remarks.

Two major domestic battles are under way. One is between the nine or so Democrats who are vying to challenge Mr Bush in 2004.

And the other is between the Democrats as a whole and the Bush administration over the legacy of the Iraq war.

This is a delicate area for the Democrats. In terms of leadership in foreign policy Mr Bush has emerged from the war with strong ratings.

Some Democrats believe their main thrust should be against the president's domestic record - for example, his insistence on large tax cuts.

But Senator Graham clearly believes there are chinks in the president's armour on security matters as well.

And there are some interesting rumblings in Washington on intelligence matters. There are fears, as demonstrated by the failure to find much in the way of weapons programmes in Iraq, that too much intelligence is telling people in the Bush administration what they want to hear.

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