Ruben  Navarrette Jr.,

On the one hand, Democrats wanted to appear strong and resolute in support of a president who toppled a dictator and liberated an oppressed people while putting to rest doubts that their party could be trusted to maintain national security. At the same time, they recognized that their base -- made up as it is of rabid Bush haters -- became energized whenever it got a glimpse of someone who opposed the war.

Reconciling all that isn't easy but Chris Wallace, host of "Fox News Sunday," gave Kerry a chance to do it during a recent interview. Wallace noted that in 2004, after it was clear that there were no weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, Kerry insisted that -- knowing that -- he would have still voted to give the president the authority to go to war. Wallace contrasted that with what Kerry said just last week about how there was "nothing in my life in public service I regret more" than voting for the Iraq War resolution. What changed? Wallace asked.

Kerry said it came down to bad management of the war itself, and that the administration had abused its authority and made a series of mistakes including isolating America.

True, perhaps. But, given what we know about Kerry, that's not the real reason for his conversion. This is: While Kerry spent 2004 trying to convince the country that he was strong enough to lead at a time of war, now he's gearing up to run for president again and eager to woo the anti-war left. Along the way, Kerry has gotten tangled up in knots. The same goes for other Democrats. Caught between pragmatism and principle, it's not always clear they know which is which.

No wonder Democrats want to run away from this issue. Wouldn't you?

Ruben Navarrette Jr.,

Ruben Navarrette Jr. is a columnist and editorial board member of The San Diego Union-Tribune.

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