The demonstrators' signs read "Withdraw the Terrorist US Army", so naturally I assumed it was a DNC event, perhaps with John Kerry and Al Gore leading the way. But no, turns out that for the second day running the Today show devoted an extended first segment to the attempted strike on Zawahiri and the harm it might have done to our relations with Pakistan.
Katie Couric introduced the piece, labeling it "collateral damage in the war on terror," and noting "one thing is for sure, the attack killed women and children and has put a strain on the relationship between the US and this key ally."
Andrea Mitchell served as prosecutrix-in-chief at the Today's War Crimes Tribunal. She began her segment by calling Pakistan "ground zero in the war on teror" and claiming the country was "now in an uproar over the women and children killed by a CIA missile." But Mitchell ran into some balky witnesses, with one even testifying . . . for the defense.
Does Mitchell really believe that the anger of the protesting Pakistanis was solely in reaction to the deaths of the women and children, and not in protest of the entire notion of the attack itself?
Wouldn't many of the same Pakastanis in whose company Zawahiri apparently felt comfortable have been just as angry, perhaps even more so, if the strike had been successful in killing him? But acknowledging that many Pakastanis are aiding and abetting our mortal enemies would have undermined Mitchell's story line of harmless Pakistanis justifiably angered at the death of innocents.
In any case, Mitchell began by noting that "the victims included families celebrating a Muslim religious holiday, increasing the anger at the US and at Pakistan's embattled President Musharaff."
That's when Andrea began parading her witnesses. First up was former US ambassador to Pakistan Robert Oakley, who offered only a mild statement to the effect only that Pakistan is a vital ally. He said nothing about how the Zawahiri strike might affect the relationship.
Andrea then speculated that the goodwill from the US aid for victims of the Pakistani earthquake "might be offset by the CIA airstrike."
Next witness was NBC terrorism analyst Roger Cressey. Andrea might have to take Cressey to the woodshed for his conclusion that. given that Zawahiri was the target, "the collateral damage associated with this attack was unfortunately worth it."
Mitchell was undaunted. The very next words out of her mouth were "And the public outcry might make it difficult for President Musharaff and his security forces to work quietly with the CIA."
"And"? That suggests that Cressey's statement supported her case, whereas it severely undermined it. Andrea should have said "but," but she had her script - airstrike bad - and was sticking with it.
Next, in a recorded clip, Clinton-era CIA chief James Woolsey offered a lukewarm statement that the strike "could make it harder to have some cooperative efforts with the Pakistani government." You could almost imagine Mitchell in the room with Woolsey: "come on, Jim, throw me a bone here."
With more footage of angry protestors playing on the screen, Mitchell concluded by suggesting that the US was hoping this was only a "temporary setback that won't undermine a friendly government in an unfriendly part of the world."
Andrea then passed the baton to Matt Lauer, who conducted a live interview with another NBC terrorism expert, Steve Emerson. Lauer was much more balanced than Mitchell, as was Emerson himself who in his very first comment observed that the 9/11 Commission had criticized the decision, for fear of collateral damage, not to take out Osama Bin Laden when on three occasions we had him in our sights.
Lauer cut in, supportively: "You're saying it might have influenced the decision this time."
Emerson: "Right. They decided the opportunity to take out the #2 to Bin Laden could not be missed even though the possibility existed that civilians would be killed in the strike."
Lauer again responded in a balanced fashion: "Let's remember that if Zawahiri had been in that town and killed in the attack, the CIA would be praised even if there had been some collateral damage like these 17 civilians."
Lauer did go on to accentuate the negative. He spoke of the US missing a big fish and killing 17 families. "We talk about winning the hearts and minds,. You have to assume that all the family members of those 17 civilians are now among the US haters. So did we go for a big fish and create hundreds of small fish?"
Emerson gave a candid answer: "Look, war is hell. That's the bottom line here. The reality is collateral damage occurs. It occured in WWII, it occured post-9/11 going into Afghanistan. If we had taken out Zawahiri there wouldn't have been any more need to go in and to carry out these kind of attacks and kill civilians. So the idea is to kill out the big fish so there won't be any more little fish created."
Emerson offered an interesting additional insight. He stated that our Pakastani relationship is really with Musharaff only, and not with Pakastani intelligence agencies, whose loyalties are suspect. That's why, he suggested, we might not have given Musharaff advance notice of the strike, for fear it would have leaked to the intelligence agencies and in turn to Zawahiri. He speculated that might have happened in any case.
Emerson did conclude on a down note, indicating that in the wake of the strike, Zawahiri will draw his security tighter, making it that much more difficult to penetrate his entourage.