- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 13, 2003

Senate Democrats lashed out at the Bush administration yesterday, saying it shirked the war on terror in favor of war in Iraq, and presidential candidate Bob Graham said it contributed to the bombings in Saudi Arabia on Monday.

“It could have been avoided if you had actually crushed the basic infrastructure of al Qaeda,” said Mr. Graham, Florida Democrat. “They would not have had the capability to launch such a sophisticated attack.”

“I think from the beginning of the war in Afghanistan, which was in early October of 2001, until about February or March of 2002, we were making good progress in dismantling the basic structure of al Qaeda. Then we started to redirect our attention to Iraq, and al Qaeda has regenerated,” said Mr. Graham, a former chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence who is running for the Democratic nomination for president in 2004.

Earlier in the day, Sen. Russell D. Feingold, Wisconsin Democrat, urged the administration not to confuse the effort in Iraq with the war on terror, which, he said, is the nation’s top priority.

“In many ways the actual business of combating the terrorist organizations responsible for the attacks on our embassies in Kenya and Tanzania, for the attack on the USS Cole, for the horror of September 11, and now, possibly, for last night’s attack in Riyadh, seems to be lost in the shuffle,” he said.

“The administration and the Congress are losing sight of our most important goals and priorities,” he said.

Mr. Feingold also said the administration is being “intensely secretive” and is hurting Congress’ ability to exercise oversight.

“I think the absence of clarity and the absence of data are dangerous. I think it endangers the American people,” Mr. Feingold said.

Neither Mr. Graham nor Mr. Feingold voted to authorize the president to use force to disarm Iraq. Mr. Graham has said repeatedly that he thought doing so would divert attention from the war on terror.

Al Qaeda is suspected in the attacks Monday, and yesterday President Bush vowed to track down those responsible.

“I know so long as I’m the president, we will deal with these people. It’s the only way to secure the country,” Mr. Bush said. “They’ll hit and run, and they’ll try to hide. We’re going to get them.”

Republicans on Capitol Hill dismissed Democrats’ complaints, with Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, Tennessee Republican, saying that although he hadn’t heard Mr. Graham’s remarks, he would “wholeheartedly disagree” with the accusation.

He said the attacks just prove the demands of the war on terror.

“They serve as sober reminders that the war on terror continues and that as a nation we must remain unswerving in its prosecution on all fronts and for however long it takes,” he said.

Other Republicans took the comments in the context of a presidential campaign.

“It’s par for the course for a Democratic candidate running for president,” said Kevin Sheridan, a spokesman for the Republican National Committee.

Two weeks ago, the State Department announced that terrorist attacks had decreased sharply worldwide last year, to their lowest level since 1969, and Secretary of State Colin L. Powell credited the U.S. war on terror for foiling many deadly plots.

The report showed a steep reduction in attacks by “international terrorists” to 199 last year from 355 a year earlier. The number of deaths fell to 725 from 3,295 in 2001, the year of the September 11 attacks, the report said.

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