Some questions seem so very simple. Senator Kerry, was the war in Iraq a mistake? Was it worth the cost? And now that we're in so deep, how do we get out? Like any good politician, John Kerry knows the value of simple answers. And like any other careful student of history, he knows the risks too, for some issues just won't let you get away with a yes or a no that you can live with forever.
And so he is an uncomfortable man right now--hoarse, tired, relieved, drinking something pink from a water bottle ("energy and vitamin C stuff," he says) and talking to TIME as he flies down to Florida, fresh off his Super Tuesday triumph. He has called unfair a question about whether the war was worth it, because we don't know where Iraq will be a decade from now. He doesn't have a detailed proposal for what to do next, just a plan for coming up with a plan. But at the very end of the interview, he gets a chance to answer a question about his answers, about why he voted to authorize the Iraq war and now campaigns against it, about the shifts and shades in his explanations that George W. Bush uses to suggest
Kerry has no core beliefs at all: The President hates the word nuance--how about you, Senator?
Kerry begins coolly: "Some of these issues are very complicated and deserve more than a simplistic this or that," says the diplomat's son, the diligent student of policy and history practically from birth, the 19-year veteran of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, the Davos regular with his Rolodex fat with kings and prime ministers and experts of all stripes. But as he speaks, Kerry heats up, grows loud, almost angry. His message shifts: Don't for a moment think all that worldliness means he has no convictions. Or that he is weak or a waffler or a political opportunist.
"I don't think war is nuanced at all. I think how you take a nation to war is the most fundamental decision a President makes," he says, "and there's nothing nuanced at all about keeping your promises. There is nothing nuanced about exhausting remedies that give you legitimacy and consent to go to war. And I refuse ever to accept the notion that anything I've suggested with respect to Iraq was nuanced. It was clear. It was precise. It was, in fact, prescient. It was ahead of the curve about what the difficulties were. And that is precisely what a President is supposed to be. I think I was right, 100% correct, about how you should have done Iraq."