LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. – The Bush administration has "muddied our moral clarity" by pressuring Israel not to protect itself against terrorists after the United States aggressively responded to the Sept. 11 attacks, Sen. Joe Lieberman said Sunday.
Another Democratic presidential hopeful visiting the Florida Democratic Convention -- Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts -- criticized the president for taking too long to get involved in the conflict.
Their comments suggested that foreign affairs won't be immune from the partisan political debates that soon will grow more heated. Over the past six months, Democrats have been very careful to separate the war on terrorism in Afghanistan from the debate over domestic issues. But the violence in the Middle East is becoming an increasingly popular topic of partisan debate.
White House officials were not immediately available to comment.
Lieberman told Florida Democrats that "what is happening in the Middle East now is not about Palestinian statehood, which we should support, but about Palestinian suicide bombers, which America and Israel must stop."
The Connecticut lawmaker visited the convention with other potential 2004 presidential candidates including Al Gore, the party's 2000 presidential nominee, Kerry and North Carolina Sen. John Edwards.
Earlier in the convention, Edwards criticized how long it took for the Bush administration to get involved in the Middle East, while Gore reserved his criticism for domestic issues.
Lieberman said President Bush "has brought a moral clarity" to the terrorism conflict around in Afghanistan and around the world.
But Lieberman said "the Bush administration has really muddied our moral clarity." He said Israel has been attacked in "a relentless campaign of suicide bombers -- killers with the same disregard for human life as those who attacked us September 11th."
Lieberman said Bush's attempts to pressure Israel against fighting terrorism as aggressively as the United States "risks losing the high ground and compromising our own war on terrorism."
Kerry told the convention he understood Israel's right to aggressively respond to suicide bombers on the West Bank. But he said it was important for the United States to be engaged in the region, and he criticized the Bush administration for waiting more than a year before engaging.
"A great nation like ours should not be dragged kicking and resisting" to the task of ending the violence, Kerry said, adding the U.S. should have been involved in the process as early as possible.
"We must not only be prepared to take risks to wage war," he said, "but we must also be prepared to take risks to make peace."