Presidency falling apart at the seams for Bush and his entourage

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His foreign policy is in tatters. He has just suffered a sweeping electoral defeat. And now - from Buenos Aires to Hawaii and Vietnam - even the clockwork-like operation to protect and ferry around George Bush and the rest of America's first family seems to be coming apart at the seams.

In the first of four incidents in the space of 48 hours this week, the President's 24-year-old daughter Barbara had her handbag stolen while out in the Argentine capital on Sunday, despite the round-the-clock protection she and her twin sister Jenna are provided by the US Secret Service.

According to La Nacion newspaper, the two were having dinner in San Telmo, a cobblestone district of cafés, old houses and steakhouses, when thieves took the handbag from under their table. Agents in their secret service detail stood at a distance, completely unaware of the incident.

There has been no comment from the White House or a doubtless highly embarrassed Secret Service. Barbara reportedly lost her mobile phone and credit cards, but was not hurt. But Greg Pitts, the acting White House travel director, was less fortunate as the President made his way back to the US from his visit to south-east Asia and the Pacific Rim summit in Vietnam. Mr Pitts was beaten and robbed by unknown assailants outside a nightclub in Waikiki at 2am on Tuesday during a stopover by the presidential party in Hawaii.

"He was knocked down, punched, kicked - his wallet and ID were stolen," Captain Frank Fujii of Honolulu Police said. Mr Pitts also lost his passport and his mobile phone. Though awake and alert, he was taken to hospital because of possible concussion, a White House spokesman said.

Hours after that incident, three local motorcycle officers in the motorcade taking Mr Bush to a military air base for his return to Washington were involved in a crash which left two of them seriously injured, after their bikes skidded on a rain-drenched road as they were about to enter the base area.

The final entry in this catalogue of mishaps were the unspecified mechanical difficulties encountered by his Air Force One Boeing 747 during the summit trip, as it was scheduled to leave Vietnam to ferry Mr Bush to Indonesia (where he spent six hours in talks at a resort near Jakarta before heading to Hawaii). The problem forced Mr Bush to take a smaller Boeing 757 back-up plane, obliging many in the White House delegation to switch to the accompanying press plane.