Interview with Warren Strobel, Knight Ridder Foreign Affairs Correspondent

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July 13th, 2004
Transcription by Volunteer Citizen Journalist Bob Reynolds

ECHO CHAMBER PROJECT: Why don't you go ahead introduce yourself for us, and your role here at Knight Ridder.
WARREN STROBEL: Okay. I am Warren Strobel. I am the senior correspondent for foreign affairs here at the Knight Ridder Washington Bureau, which means I cover foreign policy and also I work with my colleagues in covering intelligence matters.
ECHO CHAMBER PROJECT: Okay.
WARREN STROBEL: National security as well.

ECHO CHAMBER PROJECT: Okay so during the build-up to the war in Iraq. What kind of -- Well, first of all -- How do you evaluate the mainstream corporate print journalism leading up to the war in Iraq?
STROBEL: Leading up to the war in Iraq -- You mean, outside of Knight Ridder --
ECHO CHAMBER PROJECT: Yeah.
STROBEL: -- Or corporately. I guess I think to a large degree that the media missed the story. They were way too willing to sort of bend to or -- what's the word -- too willing to listen to what the administration had to say and not be critical of it. And I think that was largely a result of post-9/11 psychosis. After the 9/11 attacks, a lot of the media, the print media -- and I think even more the broadcasting media -- was willing to give the administration the benefit of the doubt. And that's what happened on Iraq. There were some critical articles but not nearly enough.

ECHO CHAMBER PROJECT: Okay. And I think a lot of what you see the administration do know is trying to put all of the blame all on the Central Intelligence Agency. Can you speak to your -- some of your reporting that you've done even before the war? -- Some of the debates, and --
STROBEL: Yeah. I think its fair to say that there is a lot of blame to go around and the CIA and the other intelligence agencies deserve some of that blame. But its pretty clear that that was only a small part of the problem. And our reporting shows that in fact the CIA did at times try to throw up roadblocks or cautions. And that really, the driving force behind the war was not the CIA. It wasn't the fact that the CIA or the DIA or the NSA came up with dramatic new intelligence that said, "There's a huge new threat here we have to deal with." The decision to go to war was quite clearly made if not before 9/11, right after 9/11. And they pressured the intelligence agencies again and again to come up with evidences to fit their preconceived notions.

ECHO CHAMBER PROJECT: What have you when you say "pressure" -- That's the second phase of the Senate Intelligence Investigation. What have you uncovered? Or what do you hear from some of your sources as tactics to use -- repetitive tasking orders, etcetera.
STROBEL: Yeah. It is very interesting. The Senate Intelligence Committee report, which came out just a few days ago. And the report says that there was no pressure. They couldn't find evidence of pressure on analysts. But we were clearly told there was -- excuse me -- We were clearly told that there was in specific cases. For example, in late 2001, early 2002, the office of the Undersecretary of Defense and Policy, Douglas Feith, set up a two-man operation to look for links between Iraq and al Qaeda. And this group of people -- who weren't trained intelligence analysts by the way -- came up with a -- what we were told is very sophomoric kind of report showing that there were a lot of links in the relationship between Iraq and al Qaeda. And that report was briefed to the CIA, and to others in the Pentagon. And we were told by people in the CIA -- fairly senior people -- that it was a form of pressure because it forced them to go back again and again and again and check their own analysis. And to find out why they had not found out the same thing. So that's one clear form of pressure. And I think the same thing happened to other instances as well. Repeated questioning of analysts about why they came to their conclusions. And why their conclusions didn't mesh with what Cheney and Bush and others wanted to hear.

ECHO CHAMBER PROJECT: Okay. Looking at a lot of the bylines, I see a lot of collaboration. Can you talk about the collaborative process? And what types of insights you get when you get reporters from totally different perspectives or sources?
STROBEL: You mean here at Knight Ridder?
ECHO CHAMBER PROJECT: Yeah.
STROBEL: Yeah. I think that our reporting was product of -- It wouldn't have happened if different individuals had been involved. There was the two main reporters -- myself and Jonathan Landay -- and editor John Walcott who is the bureau chief here, who very aggressively encouraged us to pursue the story. It wouldn't have happened without him. And Renee Schoof, our immediate supervisor and assistant editor here, who was also integral to the process. I think all of us did bring different perspectives. I have a lot of experience covering intelligence / national security in Washington. My colleague Jonathan Landay is dogged -- more dogged than I am and just would not let go. And we had a bureau chief here who has been covering national security in this town for 25 years. And to him, something just didn't smell right when the administration started making its case for war. And he pushed us to do the reporting that we did. So it was a collaborative process. It was a lot of fun. We were doing something that nobody else at the time was really doing with very few exceptions.

ECHO CHAMBER PROJECT: And do you see that -- attribute that no one else was doing it, because they're too big. And you can scrappy -- you know and talk to the more blue collar. Or talk about, why do you attribute --
STROBEL: Why did we do things differently?
ECHO CHAMBER PROJECT: Why is it that you're doing a lot of the reporting that no one else is really looking at or doing?
STROBEL: That's a good question. I think part of it is you have like the huge news media organizations like The Washington Post and The New York Times and the networks -- I don't want to be overly critical of them -- but they need access. They prize their access to the White House and to those top levels of the Pentagon and the top levels of the State Department. And so I think they were more willing to listen and to take at face value a lot of what the administration had to say. And as I said, there's also this post-9/11 problem where nobody could criticize the president on national security issues for some time -- You could, but it was harder to do so. So that's definitely was one of the issues. Another issue is -- We had people talking to us who are -- as you said "the blue collar workers" -- we tend to call them "the professionals." And when I say "professionals," I mean intelligence analysts, uniformed military and US diplomats who were expert in Iraq, expert in the Middle East, had done this stuff their whole careers. And they kept telling us over and over again that their views were being ignored, that the process was being politicized, strange things were going on, that a separate, almost alternate government was being set up, different reporting channels, and so on and so forth. And I think what happened was -- They were talking to other members of the media as well, obviously they just didn't come to Knight Ridder, but we took them a lot more seriously. We followed very aggressively on what they had to say. And in the end we found that their version of reality was more accurate than the version of reality that the White House was trying to put out.

ECHO CHAMBER PROJECT: So in other words, a lot of these sources were actually telling you that they were trying to go up the higher -- higher on the food chain -- you know, say The New York Times / Washington Post or where ever -- that they were being ignored by a lot of editors?
STROBEL: Yeah. "Ignored" is the right word. It wasn't the editors so much -- Well, I don't know. I can't speak to what was happening with editors at other news organizations. But I think they weren't getting through to the reporters at the other news organizations in the way they wanted to. And they came to us and what happens in this situation is -- We wrote a few stories that broke news and established our credibility as a major player in the story, and then more and more people starting coming to us.

ECHO CHAMBER PROJECT: Okay. And -- Now did you cover a lot of the State Department and the diplomatic -- with the UN Security Council and everything. Were you following that beat?
STROBEL: Yeah. Simultaneously to -- as I said, I had this sort of dual role where I was --
ECHO CHAMBER PROJECT: Okay. I'm going to be editing my question out, so if I need to stop you -- so that it can stand on its own. So --
STROBEL: Okay.
ECHO CHAMBER PROJECT: Could you just start at, "I was also" --?
STROBEL: Okay. I'll try and do that. Yeah, I was also covering both the national security intelligence aspects as well as the diplomatic aspects. I covered the UN Security Council Resolution -- sort of the diplomacy or lack of diplomacy with other countries leading up to the war in Iraq. And the efforts to put together a coalition, such as it was. And in the intervening months, I've covered the post-war policy, and the transition to Iraqi sovereignty.

ECHO CHAMBER PROJECT: And can you talk on general terms of -- How does this administration view International Law and the United Nations as a whole -- leading up to the war in Iraq? What is your perspective of how they view that whole process?
STROBEL: I'll try and do my best. I'm not sort of an expert on that subject. I guess it was fairly clear that the administration had made up its mind what it wanted to do. And while it sort of gave lip service to the idea of multilateralism, it really wanted to do what it wanted to do. And the other countries were free to join, but if they didn't, so be it. Which was quite different from the Clinton administration, which some people say went too far in the other direction and that they wouldn't do anything unless they had full international support and everyone was on board. In terms of the actual legality of the invasion, again, I am not an international legal expert, but it's pretty clear to me that the Bush administration wanted to have it both ways. They said that from the beginning that they had the legal authority to do this because of the resolutions that were passed right after the first Gulf War. And that Saddam had --and he did -- Saddam did violate those resolutions. So they said, "We have the authority way back there." But they also wanted to try and get additional authority from the United Nations to do this. And of course, they ultimately failed, at least to get the second resolution specifically authorizing war.

ECHO CHAMBER PROJECT: So in your -- Did you talk to any international law experts to see what their perspective of the legality -- the legal case that the Bush Administration --?
STROBEL: I think that some people are probably better than I am on this subject. But international legal experts, I think, were probably divided on this question. And there is another question that came up too, which is the question of the legality or permissibility of a preemptive war -- or a "preventive war," which are actually two different things. I think my understanding is -- A preventive war -- No, I'm going to mess this up -- Preemptive versus Preventive. I think a preemptive war is legal in the sense that if you are a nation that is under immediate threat of attack and you can prove that -- then that's okay. But a preventive war when the evidence is much more murky, that is not okay. So that was another huge issue about Bush's policy in Iraq was part of a larger policy about preventative -- preemptive war. And whether that was in fact legal or not was one of the main issues. Also, let me say -- I mean, there are a lot of people in this administration who have a much different view of international law and its role in American foreign policy than previous administrations have had. And this administration from the very start, came in determined to make sure that US sovereignty was less encumbered by international treaties, and so forth. You saw Kyoto, and getting rid of that. You saw the International Criminal Court, unsigning of that. There was a protocol on Biological Weapons Convention that we refused to sign. And several other examples of that. And that was the direct result of the philosophy from the people who felt there should be no restraints on American power to do what it wants -- and that in fact, those restraints are dangerous for the world.

ECHO CHAMBER PROJECT: And so when you look in hindsight -- and even before -- Why did the United States go to war in Iraq? Given everything that we know now about the situation.
STROBEL: That's a good question. Why did we go to war with Iraq. I think a lot of it -- I have to believe that in my heart of hearts that -- and again I'm not trying to be political here, but just analyze it from a journalist's point of view -- I have to believe that Bush and Cheney really believe that they were doing the right thing. And they truly -- After 9/11, they felt that there were some threats out there that had to be handled in a different way. But the sad fact of the matter is that the intelligence did not support that assessment. And I think you'll find a lot of terrorism experts who tell you that the war on terrorism suffered a setback. It hasn't been a plus for the war on terrorism, it has been a negative. So that's one reason we went to war. I think another reason we went was is that there is a very, very skillful, powerful lobbying effort. People from the -- Iraqi exiles, particularly from the Iraqi National Congress, coupled with members of Congress who wanted to see Saddam gone. Coupled frankly with the pro-Israeli / pro-Jewish group who wanted to see Saddam gone because Iraq was a threat to Israel. Coupled with neoconservative thinkers in and out of government. You put all of those together, and they made a fairly powerful force for war. It is a force that Bush could have stopped if he wanted to, or could have countered. But in the end, he didn't.

ECHO CHAMBER PROJECT: Talk about the legality of the Iraqi National Congress -- you and Jonathan did a report on the source of their funding, and then using that funding to actually change US government -- and the legality of that.
STROBEL: Right. The INC as we understand it is currently under investigation by the General Accounting Office, which is Congress' investigative arm, to look into the question of whether they used US funds illegally to lobby. When the United States gives funds to 501c3 groups -- non-profit groups -- there is generally a prohibition on using taxpayer funds -- your money and my money -- and using it to lobby the US government. Because it's like paying to lobby ourselves, basically. Whether that occurred or not is still an open question. But we have talked to people at the State Department and elsewhere -- some people at Capital Hill who believe in fact that happened. Which if -- If true -- I'm not saying it is true, but if true, it would be a violation of the law. And the INC did some really interesting things in setting up two or three different units, different organizations, different front companies almost to deal with the money that they received. And of course, there are at least two US Government agencies, namely the CIA and the State Department, which I believe that they did not properly account for US government funds that they had. And we know that Ahmad Chalabi, the head of the INC, is now under suspicion of other things. Not him personally necessarily, but his group is under investigations for having passed US secrets to Iran.

ECHO CHAMBER PROJECT: During the build-up to the war in Iraq, when you're looking at both your sources and reading the newspaper coverage, but also listening to the administration -- Can you isolate some instances where some red flags went up that didn't really make sense to you -- that made you push harder to do some more reporting?
STROBEL: There were several red flags. The first for me, just having covered the Middle East for a long time, I knew that there was not supposed to be -- most people didn't believe that there was a lot of cooperation between Sunni terrorists groups -- radical theological groups like Bin Laden's -- and largely secular governments like Saddam Hussein's -- and other secular governments. I knew that al Qaeda was largely not a state-sponsored organization -- and in fact, it was a non-state actor. And when the administration started talking about cooperation between Iraq and al Qaeda, I just -- it threw up a lot of red flags. There had never been any evidence of that before. It didn't make sense to me from Saddam's perspective to be engaged in helping al Qaeda for several reasons. First of all, Saddam -- and many other secular leaders in the Middle East -- had always been very careful not to help Islamic groups. They've been, in fact, afraid that they would turn and overthrow them. That's one reason. A second reason, Saddam was a control freak and he didn't want to give up any power. And the idea that he would turn over his weapons of mass destruction programs, if he had them, over to al Qaeda when these WMD programs were the most valuable thing he had, it just didn't seem to make sense. And plus, what we knew of Iraq's sponsorship for state terror -- state sponsorship of terrorism had mostly to do with rhetorical and financial funding of Palestinian groups that were fighting the Israeli occupation. So that all just didn't make sense. Then my colleague Jon Landay, who is more expert than I am on some of the nuclear issues, when the administration started talking about aluminum tubes that might be used for Iraq's nuclear effort, and the uranium that it was supposed to be getting from Africa -- all those things did not add up to him. So you combine that with what we were hearing from our sources in the government, and it just kept us -- pushing us to ask more. And you know, it's not for me to criticize any members of the media, but you do have to wonder what would have happened if the entire media establishment in this country had taken a different stance -- from the time of let's say the end of the war in Afghanistan in December / January 2002 and the start of the invasion. Would it have changed history? Would Bush not have invaded? Would Congress not have gone along? I don't know, but it is a question worth asking.

ECHO CHAMBER PROJECT: And -- In your sense -- Why did the administration go from saying, "We don't need a second resolution" to switching to now they said, "We're going to go after it, even though we don't think we need it." There was a switch at the end of January. Can you speak to why you think they made that switch?
STROBEL: I think -- and this is partly based on my own reporting effort, but also based on what I've read and heard is that -- there's only one reason why they did that, and that's Britain.

ECHO CHAMBER PROJECT: Okay, hold on a second. Did what? I'm sorry.
STROBEL: There's only one reason, and as far as I can tell from my reporting and reading, that they went for the second resolution, and that's the UK. They had very few international partners in this venture in Iraq. And the only major one, really, other than the United States, was Britain. And Tony Blair needed the second resolution politically at home. Because he was pursuing a policy that most of his countrymen -- most of his constituents disagreed with. So there were a lot of people advising Bush, and I think probably including Cheney and Rumsfeld, I'm almost certain of it, who didn't want to go for a second resolution "We've tried the UN route. It's failed. Let's go to war." But Bush said, "No, Blair is my partner in this. He's stood up for me. He's backed me. He says he needs a second resolution. Let's do it." And I assume Powell probably wanted to go for -- I'm certain that Powell wanted to go for a second resolution too.

ECHO CHAMBER PROJECT: And can you talk about some of the splits between the State Department and Defense -- you know, the struggle -- with Powell, who was cast as this dove -- or someone who wanted to take the more legal route of going to the UN? Can you talk about generally, the different forces and factions that were fighting each other over that?
STROBEL: Yeah, let me try and do that. I have to go back a few steps. I've covered every administration since Reagan -- since Reagan's second term in terms of national security and foreign policy. And there have always splits between the State Department and the Defense Department, between the White House and the State Department, and so forth. But in this administration, they're more bitter, they're more severe, they're more persistent, they never get resolved. So that kind of underlay the whole Iraq policy. And certainly Powell -- It's funny, Powell -- Some people want to paint Powell as a dove, and he's not. He's a moderate -- he might even be to the right of moderate. But compared to some of the other people in this administration, I guess he was dovish. And -- I think that the policy that was ultimately pursued -- the invasion -- is not the policy that would have happened had he been President or even a more powerful Secretary of State. The one victory that he did win was convincing Bush that they had to go the UN route -- at least to make a try of it. And again, as I've said previously, Cheney and Rumsfeld didn't probably want to take the UN route at all. And Powell was able to convince Bush to do that. But they didn't really pursue it to the end. And they didn't pursue it --- They pursued it half-heartedly. They pursued it in a divided manner with some people in Washington wanted to go forward, and some people in Washington not. And they were blocked at every term, frankly, by the European allies -- "allies" isn't even the right word. But they were blocked by the Europeans, who fundamentally disagree with the policy -- And were afraid of, not just of Iraq, but of American power in general, and the way that American foreign policy was going. And you saw it in specific instances where there would be negotiations up in New York over the content of the UN resolution -- I am talking about the first resolution -- and back in Washington there would be arguments over every paragraph and comma between the Defense Department and the State Department. And under Bush, I think you have a fairly weak national security council structure. Condi Rice has not been able to sort of grab hold of the process, and bring things to conclusions. So these debates never ever get settled. And it doesn't make for smooth policymaking at all -- and Iraq is not the only example.

ECHO CHAMBER PROJECT: And can you talk about -- there was a eight-weeks, I think, time period up to 1441 where there were -- the United States wanted to have the resolution a certain way, and the French wanted to have it another way. Can you talk about the nature of that particular disagreement and grievance?
STROBEL: Yeah. I think -- Is it 17-week? No. I forgotten how long it is. But it was amazing. It was just -- Powell worked on it like day-in and day-out like he was almost the desk officer for this. And as things often do, it came down to a difference of a preposition (Phone Rings) of an "and" or an "or" ...
ECHO CHAMBER PROJECT: When you say "it" -- Can you say "Resolution 1441"
STROBEL: Okay.
ECHO CHAMBER PROJECT: Just wait for the phone... We were talking about the nature of the disagreement -- or the debate between 1441 -- Why was there -- Why did it take so long?
STROBEL: Right. There was a bitter dispute over resolution 1441 between the United States, France, Russia, Germany and a few others. But it was primarily between the United States and France. And Powell and his counterpart for France argued, negotiated, debated every sentence of that thing -- and down to individual words. I've forgotten the exact word, but there was like a preposition -- like an "and" or an "or" -- that they finally had to negotiate. It was actually very funny, the final deal came when Powell was walking his daughter down the aisle to be married. I think it was here in Washington. And he got a call on the phone from the French Foreign minister who had finally agreed to the final US proposal, and that's how they nailed it down. But it was bitterly, bitterly fought. And as I said, you have to think in terms of dual negotiations because you have this negotiation going on in New York and in world capitals -- Paris, London, United States -- and then you had this negotiation within the Bush administration over what they were going to do. So it took a long time. It took a lot longer than they thought. And ultimately found that they did it once, but they obviously could not get the second resolution.

ECHO CHAMBER PROJECT: And I think that the nature of the grievance -- a lot -- was this "hidden triggers." You know, "No Automaticity" and "No Hidden Triggers." Can you speak about what was in that resolution, and what this meant?
STROBEL: In terms of Resolution 1441 and the authorization for war, it's very funny. As so often happen in these diplomatic things, they settled on a compromise, which allowed each side to read it exactly as they wanted. So each side could say that they got what they wanted. By each side, I mean the French and the United States primarily. When it fact they had sort of "papered over" the issue. France believed that it had got in the resolution "no automaticity." And the United States believed that he had basically gotten a green light for war if Saddam didn't do X, Y, and Z. And, of course, they never believed Saddam was going to do X, Y, and Z. And even if he had done X, Y, and Z, it's unlikely that the Bush administration would ever have acknowledged that, I think.

ECHO CHAMBER PROJECT: And if you look at their legal justification,
their legal justification was saying that "We have authorization from 678 and 687." And that 1441, in a way, didn't really give them. So when John Negroponte is saying, "There's no hidden triggers in this resolution." Their legal argument was actually pointing to the resolutions ten years prior.
STROBEL: Yeah.
ECHO CHAMBER PROJECT: So can you talk about -- Do you see it that way as well? Or--?
STROBEL: Yeah, I guess -- How to put it? I think a lot of their legal argument was based on the previous resolutions that were passed in the immediate aftermath of the Gulf War. And they sort of always -- when they were challenged -- always fell back on "He's in violation of these resolutions." Which -- I mean that was their strategy. I think -- I have to say that Saddam soft of left himself open to that. Because he did invade Iran, and he did invade Kuwait, and he did sign these resolutions that largely he did not live up to. I'm not saying that that's an argument to go to war in 2003 or not. But Saddam sort of left himself open to that charge. He left a big loophole -- or a big hole that the Bush Administration was able to drive through. But the sad fact is to me that in the history books, I think that fundamentally people will look back and say that "This was not a war that was internationally legitimized." I don't think. Obviously, the Bush administration would make a very different argument, and say that they had authority and legitimacy. But -- When you go to war like this you want to have the entire world behind you, and you want to have the international community saying that the invasion of Iraq is a legitimate and necessary thing that's been approved by the United Nations. And the history books aren't going show that. And there's going to debate forever about whether it was the right thing to do or not. And it is not my place to decide whether it was the right thing to do or not.

ECHO CHAMBER PROJECT: But I guess one question that if you take that stance. Who is the sovereign authority to enforce the resolutions? Who can -- Can the United States do it unilaterally? Or is it only the United Nations Security Council? And I think that's where there's a debate. Can you talk about both sides of that? And where you see that?
STROBEL: Yeah. Or maybe if I could take the question in a little different direction. One of our problems in the Middle East and around the world is the fact that -- we are the most powerful member of the UN Security Council, and have veto power and obviously the most powerful country in the world. And there is a perception out there that we force or demand enforcement of the Security Council resolutions selectively. We demand that Saddam Hussein live up to such-and-such a resolution. We demand that Sudan live up to such-and-such a resolution. But when it comes to other countries, Israel being one of them, we don't demand the same level of enforcement. And people see that as unfair and not right. And some people would even say it feeds the -- if not hatred, at least unhappiness with American policy in the region.

ECHO CHAMBER PROJECT: But I guess, the question could also be, "Who is the sovereign authority to those -- those resolutions?"
STROBEL: Resolutions. I guess it's -- Again, I'm not an international legal expert, but I guess what I'd have to say is -- It's the UN Security Council Resolutions, so it's the UN Security Council that determines whether its enforced or how its enforced. But that's sort of an international legal thing. But as a practical matter, the United States and a few other countries really run the security council.

ECHO CHAMBER PROJECT: So I guess that's -- When I talk to international legal experts, they say, 'That's a big problem is that -- that there is no sovereign authority. In a way, it's up to individual member states to do it. And that officially it should only be the Council that's enforcing these resolutions, but you have both the Democrats, Republicans and a lot of the media seeing International Law as a political issue.' You know, is International Law a political issue? Is it a legal issue?
STROBEL: I guess its both, I mean in reality. I don't know what else -- I don't know if you had the UN, not the Security Council, but the UN itself -- the UN staff enforce resolutions. I don't think that would work very well. I just don't know how to answer that question. Sorry.

ECHO CHAMBER PROJECT: Okay. You wrote a book about breaking news and it's effect on foreign policy. Can you give a gist of how that may have played out in this particular war? Or what the particular -- what your points were?
STROBEL: My book was published in 1997 by the US Institute of Peace. It was called "Late-Breaking Foreign Policy," and it looked more at the issue of how the US news media affects foreign policy decisions -- particularly in terms of deployment of troops overseas. And I started from the premise that a lot of people believe that the coverage of starvation in Somalia -- news coverage of starvation in Somalia in 1990 - '91 got Bush, the father, to intervene in Somalia with troops. And just a few months later the coverage of bodies being dragged through the streets of Mogadishu, and the American military failures there got American troops to be pulled out of Somalia. And obviously if the news media has that much power over foreign policy, that's bad because you can't run your foreign policy -- you can't make decisions in terms of other nations and national security based on just what news media is reporting. Due to my research, I actually found out that the effect, which some people call "The CNN Effect," is exaggerated. And I think that the whole Iraq episode kind of validated my thesis, which is that the media does have a lot of impact on foreign policy, but that in fact, our power does not stand up to the power of the President and the Congress have in terms of setting an agenda and deciding what's to be done.

ECHO CHAMBER PROJECT: Okay (Time remaining). Now I guess another -- A lot of what with the administration's argument is now is trying to make this Iraq war as a purely humanitarian cause. Can you talk about from your point of view, does that hold up for what the justifications were to go to war in Iraq?
STROBEL: It's interesting because that was a very small -- The humanitarian part of the war -- the suffering of the Iraqi people under the sanctions, and the suffering under Saddam Hussein's government -- was a very small part of the administration's case for war. They did include it, but it was sort of the fourth thing -- a sort of an add-on after you talk about Iraq's support for terrorism, Iraq's weapons of mass destruction, and a couple of other major issues. Then they sort of said, "And -- Saddam's a horrible leader, and so forth." So that wasn't what they emphasized when they went to war. You do see them emphasize it a little more now I think. You know, talking about how Iraqi's are freer and happier now that Saddam is gone. Saddam was a bastard, I mean, let's be clear about that. I was in Iraq four times during Saddam's rule. And he was one of the worst rulers on earth. But that's not the case that they made. It's not the case that they emphasized on going to war. And I think -- I guess we'll see. And the public will have to make its own choice this November about whether they feel. It's interesting, this election -- more than any election I can remember in a long time -- is going to be about just one thing. It's really going to be a referendum on Bush's policies in Iraq, and on the war on terrorism.

ECHO CHAMBER PROJECT: Did you do you do a lot of talking to other diplomats from other embassies when you're covering? Or are you mostly interacting with Richard Boucher? Or who do you, when you're covering the diplomatic beat, are you getting different perspectives from different ambassadors? And what was their perspective?
STROBEL: Yeah. I mean, in covering the diplomatic beat you -- it's kind of a fun beat because you get to cover not only the state department, and what Richard Boucher and Colin Powell are saying, but you also get to cover the other embassies. Here in Washington there's a huge variety of think tanks with very noted experts from all different parts of the world, and all different political views -- or analytical views. So you try to touch base with as many people as possible. I think what I was picking up was a lot of concern about post-war Iraq. Because even long before March 2003, it had become clear that the war was going to happen. I mean we at Knight Ridder did a story in January of 2002 saying Bush had essentially decided that Saddam had to go, and was working on the policies to make Saddam go. So you knew for -- There was an extraordinary long run up to the war. And there was a lot concern both at the embassies and in sort of the academic community about whether the administration had prepared adequately for post-war Iraq. And of course we know -- now we know that they hadn't.

ECHO CHAMBER PROJECT: Can you isolate a point when you kind of saw that war was inevitable? That war was going to happen regardless of what was going on at the UN or anywhere else?
STROBEL: Yeah. There were several points. I mean, one was the story that -- There were several points at which I became increasingly convinced that war was going to happen. One was January 2002, I believe. January 2002, Me and John Walcott and Jon Landay did a story, talking to our sources, who basically said that "Bush had decided that Saddam has to go." And he hasn't decided there's going to be a war, or he's going to try and start a coup or what have you. But Saddam has to go. That's now the policy, which is a big change. Then move the ball ahead a little bit to say August of 2002. And Cheney gave a very -- Cheney really began selling of the war in August 2002 with two speeches. One was I think at the VFW, and I forget where the second one was. And especially in the first speech -- they toned down the second speech a little bit -- but the first speech Cheney basically made it clear that they were headed towards war. And he had accused, if I am not mistaken, Saddam of having reconstituted his nuclear weapons. He basically came this close to saying, "Saddam had a nuclear weapon," which was ridiculous. Those are two points. And then there's some other points along the way in terms of the diplomacy at the United Nations where it became clear that they weren't going to get the second resolution. And then you knew that Bush was sort of committed to this course. But it wasn't a big surprise.

ECHO CHAMBER PROJECT: Okay. Let me just see if there are any other questions here. Now did you hear about this -- in The London Observer, there was a report, from a NSA memo that was published on like March 2nd, which was -- the war started on like March 19th. But on March 2nd, that Frank Koza had ordered the NSA to -- you know, the United Kingdom to start spying and do some illicit espionage on the different diplomats at the United Nations. And then a week later, Katherine Gunn was an unnamed government official who was arrested for leaking the memo. Did you -- Did that -- Did you see that at all? Or do you look at the foreign press when you're covering the diplomatic beat? Was that on your radar screen?
STROBEL: Yeah. I mean, covering the diplomatic beat, you do have to cover the foreign press -- or read it as much as possible. You just need an English translation if it's in Arabic or something. The issue about the US spying on the United Nations Security Council members. Yeah, it was on my radar screen. But as I recall, it happened so close to the actual outbreak of the war that it sort of got overtaken by events. I have to say, I didn't do any direct reporting on this story, but it didn't surprise me at all that we spy on our allies. It's done.

ECHO CHAMBER PROJECT: Okay. And I think that's it. Do you have any other thoughts about --?
STROBEL: No. No, I don't think there's anything we didn't cover.