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Now it's right war, wrong reason

"If we are wrong [about Iraq and weapons of mass destruction]," said Prime Minister Tony Blair before Congress last week, "we will have destroyed a threat that, at its very least, is responsible for inhumane carnage and suffering."

President Bush was not ready to concede the possibility of having invaded Iraq on a wrong premise. Standing next to Mr. Blair at the White House, he said, "We won't be proven wrong." However, he did not say that he would be proven right.

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A school of thought is emerging that Saddam Hussein was not so much covering up his possession of banned weapons as his lack of them.

The Wall Street Journal reported that in 1990, weeks before the Gulf War, Iraqi scientists ran an unsuccessful test of a biological agent called ricin, made from castor beans, and then scrapped the program.

In The Washington Post, columnist David Ignatius speculates that Hussein's science adviser, Amir Saadi, and Deputy Prime Minister Tariq Aziz are being kept under wraps by the American authorities because they might testify that the dictator had long since destroyed his weapons of mass destruction.

Why, then, would he have not disclosed that fact to the United Nations inspectors? Presumably, says Mr. Ignatius, because he would lose a deterrent to attack by his Kurdish and Shiite enemies.

The New Republic magazine goes further in a major article, based partly on interviews with Iraqi scientists. It says that fear of Hussein kept scientists from telling him of weapons programs that had failed or were scrapped.

If the weapons were gone, then why didn't Hussein cooperate with UN inspectors to establish that and possibly avert an invasion? The consensus among the weapons hunters, says The New Republic, is that Hussein didn't want to appear weak at home and that uncertainty about the weapons could serve as a deterrent to American forces.

The president insists that piles of weapons will eventually be found. Blair says that piles of bodies are enough to justify the war.

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As the days and weeks drag on with no sign of an arsenal of banned weapons, it looks as though the occupiers of Iraq are slowly moving their thesis to the idea of the right war for the wrong reason.

It remains to be seen whether that switch in the propaganda line will fly.

Daniel Schorr is a senior news analyst at National Public Radio.