Was Saddam Hussein bluffing about having WMDs? A riveting, front page story in the WaPo indicates that this may have been his ruse–in which case it certainly backfired. Couldn’t happen to a nicer guy. The Post headline: “Iraq’s Arsenal Was Only on Paper. Since Gulf War, Nonconventional Weapons Never Got Past the Planning Stage.” An Iraqi rocket scientist named Modher-Sadeq-Saba Tamini was involved in covert work that should have been reported to the weapons inspectors but wasn’t. “Iraq flouted a legal duty to report the designs,” the Post notes. “The weapons they depicted, however, did not exist. After years of development’against significant obstacles’they might have taken form as nine-ton missiles. In March they fit in Tamini’s pocket, on two digital compact discs.”

For hawks like me, the Post piece is fascinating. But not an argument against the Iraqi war. The optimum time to destroy Iraq’s WMDs is while they still fit into Mr. Tamini’s pocket. The illusion of WMDs also helped Saddam overawe his own people. The hapless Dr. Blix of failed inspections fame got it right (for once). “You can put a sign on your door, ‘Beware of the dog,'” Blixie told the Post, “without having a dog. They did not mind looking a little bit serious and a little bit dangerous.”

If it turns out that WMCs were in the very early stages of redevelopment after the Gulf War, we weren’t the only ones misled. Intriguingly, the Post notes that Iraqi scientists may have been lying about how far along they were to fool Saddam. “Lying to an absolute ruler was hazardous, Iraqi weaponeers said,” the WaPo notes, “but less so in some cases than the alternative. ‘No one will tell Saddam Hussein to his face, ‘I can’t do this,’ said an Iraqi brigadier general who supervised the technologies used in the rail gun.”

Okay, so Saddam was no rocket scientist. He was still a mass murder who desperately wanted an arsenal of WMDs. If it turns out that he was bluffing (and being bluffed), how will it play? I’d guess it depends on how well the war goes. And, oh yes, how many more mass graves we find.