The suspicion is that John Kerry will make reference to the Duelfer report no fewer than seven times during the debate tonight. Kerry will most likely try to use Duelfer as a hammer to beat home the theme that Bush is fundamentally dishonest and can't be trusted because he lies. (As opposed to Kerry, whom Bush insists can't be distrusted because he flip-flops.)
I suspect that this tactic will be spectacularly effective. It shouldn't be. As Mickey Kaus notes today, "If a man says he has a gun, acts like he has a gun, and convinces everyone around him he has a gun, and starts waving it around and behaving recklessly, the police are justified in shooting him (even if it turns out later he just had a black bar of soap). Similarly, according to the Duelfer report, Saddam seems to have intentionally convinced other countries, and his own generals, that he had WMDs. He also convinced much of the U.S. government. If we reacted accordingly and he turns out not to have had WMDs, whose fault is that?"
But just because Kerry is likely to pursue a line of attack that's stupid, doesn't mean that Duelfer doesn't expose a weakness in Bush. If Kerry were smarter (or more to the point, if Howard Dean hadn't bullied the Democrats into being the anti-war party), he would attack Bush not for being dishonest, but for being incompetent. If I were Kerry, I'd make the following argument:
The Duelfer report exposes, once again, the scope of our intelligence failure. Under President Bush, our intelligence community didn't see 9/11 coming. Under President Bush, our intelligence community didn't understand the nature of the threat posed by Iraq's WMD program. Now, should we have invaded Iraq? Yes. But the danger of Bush's incompetence isn't that his intelligence apparatus had a false positive. The danger is that this president is so incompetent that we are at great risk of a false negative. World affairs are not a court of law. We do not need proof beyond a reasonable doubt to protect our nation from known evildoers. But we do need to know where the threats really are so that we can deal with them, and, as 9/11, the Kay report, and now, the Duelfer report, demonstrate, this president is not on the ball enough to protect us from our enemies.
I've said it before and I'll say it again: If Kerry was running to Bush's right on Iraq and terrorism, this election wouldn't be close.
4 hours ago