John Kerry's defenders complain that the Massachusetts senator has always had a consistent, even if "nuanced," position on the Iraq War. All it takes, they say, is a little attention, and what he believes becomes clear. They are right. Kerry's position can be easily distilled in a few hundred words, as follows:
If Saddam Hussein invades a neighboring country, as he did in 1990, and a massive international coalition is mustered against him, as it was, the president of the United States should not be authorized to take military action. But if the president launches military action and it is successful, he's all for it.
If in 2002 Saddam continues to defy the United Nations, but in much murkier circumstances than 1991 -- there's no invasion of a neighbor, for instance -- the president should be authorized to take military action. If the president takes such action and topples Saddam, he's for it. But if Howard Dean gains in the Democratic primaries in early 2004, he's against it.
In that event, if the war that he authorized needs funding, he's against it. If American troops need more body armor, he criticizes President Bush for not providing it. But if funding for such armor is in the $87 billion bill to fund the war, which he authorized and once supported but no longer supports even though he authorized it, he's against it.
If -- prior to readjusting fully to the Dean surge -- he is asked about the $87 billion, he believes voting against it would be "irresponsible." Later -- after vanquishing Dean, and as he tries to move to the center -- if he is criticized for actually voting against the $87 billion, he explains that he voted for it, before voting against it. He voted for it because it would be wrong to abandon our troops, but he voted against it because it would be wrong to support the war the troops are fighting in, which he once supported, but now opposes, even though he supports the troops as long as they can fight it without new funding.
If Kerry is welcoming another Democrat who voted against the $87 billion onto his ticket, John Edwards, he is "proud" of the vote he called "irresponsible," even if he didn't cast that vote as commonly understood, since he voted for it, before he voted against it, and even if he did vote against it, it was the right thing to do because he was against the war after he was for it, which is plenty reason to be proud.
If Kerry needs criticisms to hurl at Bush, it is unacceptable that Bush didn't muster the international coalition of the first Gulf War, which he opposed (before he was for it). If there are no WMDs in Iraq, Bush misled us into war, even though Kerry himself said the same thing about WMDs, misleading the public into supporting a war that he would support only for as long as he didn't oppose it.
If pressed to say whether he would have voted to authorize the war despite not finding WMDs, he supports voting the same way, authorizing a war that he eventually opposed, even though it deserved his authorization vote and still does today, despite his opposition to it. If criticizing Bush's postwar management, he supports more troops in Iraq. If criticizing Bush's postwar management, he supports pulling troops out of Iraq in six months.
If desperate to gain post-August traction against Bush, he thinks Iraq is "the wrong war, in the wrong place, at the wrong time." Although he would vote again to authorize the wrong war, so long as he wouldn't be committed to voting to fund it, at least not committed to voting to fund it in a circumstance where he couldn't immediately also vote against funding it to demonstrate how he opposed the wrong war he supported and would authorize again.
See? It's simple.