WASHINGTON – Democratic presidential hopeful Joe Lieberman (search) criticized President Bush and his Democratic rivals Monday, faulting the administration for being ill-prepared for a post-Saddam Iraq and questioning whether his foes "know a just war when they see it."
In a broad swipe at the commander-in-chief and the Democratic candidates who aspire to the job, Lieberman defended his strong support for the U.S.-led military campaign, assailed Bush for failing to take responsibility for the intelligence dispute and said his rivals' remarks cast doubt on the Democratic Party's national security record.
"The end was just and the means were fitting to the task," the Connecticut senator said in a speech and subsequent news conference in the Capitol, "as was the killing of Saddam Hussein's two sons and the encouraging search going on now in Iraq for Saddam Hussein (search) himself."
The comment was a rebuttal to rival Howard Dean's remark last week following the death of Saddam's sons, Uday and Qusay; the former Vermont governor said "in general the ends do not justify the means."
Lieberman said he did not agree with Dean, but he declined to take a harsher tack in discussing his foes for the nomination. He was even reticent to name names until pressed by reporters.
"By their words, some in my party are sending out a message that they don't know a just war when they see it," he said.
Lawmakers who voted for the congressional resolution authorizing the use of force, including Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts and Rep. Dick Gephardt of Missouri, have been critical of Bush and his justification for war as well as the administration's postwar polices. They have stepped up their criticism since the White House disavowed Bush's statement in his Jan. 28 State of the Union address that Iraq was trying to buy uranium (search) from Africa for a nuclear weapons program.
Asked about Kerry and Gephardt, Lieberman said, "There's a danger that in expressing the justified questions about the 16 words in the State of the Union, about the stunning lack of preparedness of the Bush administration for post-Saddam Iraq, that we obscure the fact that this was a just war."
Lieberman also complained that the administration, which has mishandled the intelligence flap, "threatens to give a bad name to a just war." He faulted it for inadequate, postwar planning and questioned why Bush hasn't taken responsibility for the State of the Union comment.
He suggested that the administration strengthen Iraq's governing council, publish all 28 pages that have been redacted in the Joint Intelligence Committee (search) report on terrorism, consolidate the terrorist watch lists kept by several agencies and push for improvements in intelligence gathering.
Lieberman is the most well-known Democratic candidate after serving as Al Gore's running mate in 2000, but he is lagging in polls in Iowa and New Hampshire. He dismissed suggestions that he is falling behind his rivals.
"The battle has just begun," Lieberman said. "It won't officially begin until next year when the primaries begin, that's why I'm speaking out now."