John Kerry made it clear a couple of weeks ago that he would have voted for the October 2002 Iraq resolution even if he knew what we all seem to know now (I hedged because of Dick Cheney and others with great delusions): Iraq had no WMD and no link to al Qaeda.
Many on the left hated his rationale, but I think it makes sense (for Kerry). The resolution gave the President greater authority at the UN. With the threat of force looming, Iraq was highly motivated to open itself to international weapons inspections.
The inspectors were learning a great deal, but had not finished their job when Bush and Blair went to war. Despite what Bush has claimed on a couple of occasions, they were not seriously impeding the inspections.
So, here's the question of the day for both candidates: Would you have started war on March 19, 2003, had you known then what you know now?
Kerry's answer is clearly "no." In fact, he said months ago he wouldn't have gone to war. Kerry would have allowed the inspectors to continue their work, sought greater cooperation with US allies, etc. Thus, even with ambiguity about Iraqi WMD, Kerry would not have gone to war so hastily.
I think Bush would still say "yes," even knowing there was no WMD or link to al Qaeda. That's why he keeps emphasizing how important it was to topple Saddam Hussein.
Yet, even Paul Wolfowitz says that the human rights rationale was insufficient.
Can't this be reframed as one ENORMOUS disagreement between Kerry and Iraq that helps explain their positions in a nutshell?
Bush was reckless and wrong.
Kerry wanted to be cautious and right.
That's a $200 billion difference in perspective, costing also 1000 American lives, 1000s of Iraqi lives, American credibility around the world, and who-knows-what in terms of the diversion of resources from the real war on terror.
Note: minor edits for clarity on 9/6/04