WASHINGTON – Democratic presidential candidate Joe Lieberman (search) said a top Army general should be reprimanded for his criticism of Muslims, calling those comments the "mirror opposite" of Usama bin Laden's (search) vilification of Christians and Jews.
In an interview with Associated Press reporters and editors, Lieberman said Army Lt. Gen. William Boykin (search) should be held to account for casting the United States' fight against terrorists in religious terms with comments that were "wrong theologically" and "very bigoted."
The general, deputy undersecretary of defense for intelligence, has come under widespread criticism since the Los Angeles Times reported last Thursday that he characterized the battle against Islamic terrorists as a clash between Christianity and "a guy named Satan." He espoused similar ideas in several appearances in churches, including a story in which he said he defeated a Muslim Somali warlord because "I knew my god was bigger than his. I knew that my god was a real god and his was an idol."
Lieberman said such divisive remarks could contribute to a "global theological conflict" that would endanger people throughout the world.
"That's exactly what bin Laden and Al Qaeda want to do, and these remarks unfortunately give material, give fuel to the fire that bin Laden wants to start all around the world against the rest of us," the Connecticut senator said Wednesday.
Asked whether Boykin should be dismissed from his job, Lieberman quipped: "Based on his comments or on a failure to catch bin Laden? Or both?"
Lieberman said President Bush was "a bit slow" to react to Boykin's remarks as well as to a comment by Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad that "Jews rule the world by proxy."
Bush's first public response to Boykin came Wednesday, when he told reporters aboard Air Force One, en route to Australia from Indonesia, that he had repudiated the general's views in discussions with leaders of Muslim Indonesia.
"I said he didn't reflect my opinion," Bush said. "Look, it just doesn't reflect what the government thinks."
Bush's reaction to Mohamad's views about Jews came at a Pacific Rim summit in Thailand on Monday, four days after Mohamad made them at an Islamic conference. Bush told the Malaysian prime minister that his comments were "wrong and divisive," White House spokesman Scott McClellan said.
Lieberman, an Orthodox Jew, said he is confident that his presidency would be judged by Muslims and others around the world by his actions, not his faith. Extremists hate all Americans, regardless of their religion, he said.
"The United States under George Bush is extremely unpopular in the world, including in the Arab-Islamic world," Lieberman said. "It has to do not with his religion, but with his policies."
In an hour-long interview Wednesday, Lieberman argued that his moderate record, national security experience and willingness to buck even Democratic special interests make him the best candidate take on Bush in 2004.
"I don't feel an obligation to walk down every path the majority of Democrats are going down or interest groups in the Democratic Party are going down if I don't think it's right for the country," Lieberman said.
His support for taxpayer-financed school vouchers, free trade and the war in Iraq have caused some critics to derisively call him a Bush-like Democrat. Lieberman said that label belongs to rising rival Wesley Clark, who recently announced his Democratic affiliation.
"I must say that since Wes Clark joined the Democratic Party and became a Democratic presidential candidate, I haven't heard many people referring to me as Bush-lite," Lieberman said. "I think by comparison I'm a lifelong Democrat."
Clark spokeswoman Kym Spell fired back: "The reason that most Democrats and most Americans see Joe Lieberman as aligned with George Bush is because many of his positions are Republican and conservative positions."
Lieberman also sided with Bush's brother, Republican Gov. Jeb Bush of Florida, who ordered that a feeding tube reinserted into a brain-damaged woman. Weighing in on another medical issue, he said his first act in office would be to overturn President Bush's policy to limit scientific research involving human embryonic cells.
Lieberman said he will accept federal funds for his primary campaign and the spending limits that accompany them.