Thomas Fitzgerald of the Knight Ridder Newspapers writes that, despite the charges of flip-flopping, a close look at Kerry’s record indicates that “for the past two years [Kerry] has been consistent and defensible – just difficult to sell in a sound-bite world. “

Kerry always called for a broad international coalition to confront Saddam Hussein, and going to war only as a last resort. Like most senators, he thought Bush needed the authority – it passed the Senate 77-23, and Kerry was one of 29 Democrats who supported it.

But once Bush got the authority, Kerry believes, he misused it.

In his Tuesday news conference, where 10 out of 11 questions probed his position on Iraq, Kerry said that he voted to authorize Bush to go to war if necessary in order to present a united U.S. front to the world and thus strengthen Bush’s hand.

It was only one year after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. The president was challenging the United Nations to support him in confronting Saddam, whom Bush painted as a clear and present danger to the world. He told Congress that the best hope of avoiding war was to stand strong and united, first at home, then together with the United Nations in backing Saddam down.

“The vote for authorization is interpreted by a lot of people as a vote to go to war,” Kerry said Tuesday. “But if you read it, and if you think about what it gave the president, it gave the president what he said: America will speak with one voice … It was not a vote to go that day. It was a vote to go through the process of going to the U.N., building the allies and then making a judgment of whether we had to go.”

It is clear from Kerry’s remarks during the 2002 Senate debate that he did not consider the resolution a declaration of war.

“Let there be no doubt or confusion about where we stand on this. I will support a multilateral effort to disarm (Saddam) by force, if we ever exhaust … other options,” Kerry said in debate.

Then as now, he urged Bush to work with the United Nations.

“If we do wind up going to war with Iraq, it is imperative that we do so with others in the international community,” Kerry said.

In fact, Bush promised at the time to build a broad coalition and go slow.

In an Oct. 7, 2002, speech in Cincinnati, just four days before the Senate vote, the president pledged to exhaust other options and said that war was “not inevitable.” He urged Congress to pass the resolution to give him leverage.

And Bush has used the resolution as leverage against Kerry ever since.