On a day when many in America are rejoicing at the death of the most wanted man in Iraq, Abu Musab al Zarqawi, a man who is responsible for countless deaths in Iraq and who made it his mission to spark civil war, CBS brought in a long time Bush administration critic to discuss its implications on this morning's "Early Show." Co-host Harry Smith, utilizing spin that would make "Baghdad Bob" jealous, attempted to portray Zarqawi’s death as being bad news for America, and his guest, CBS News Terrorism Analyst Michael Scheuer, was happy to back his assertions even going so far as to claim Zarqawi’s death was good for Al Qaeda.
Scheuers first statement of the segment offered some hope that maybe he’d be fair minded:
"Oh, I think any day that a man like Zarqawi is dead is a day for Americans to celebrate."
But his tune quickly turned as he warned that people shouldn’t make a big deal of this, which led into Harry Smith’s questions. Smith used his questions to lead Scheuer where he seemed to want to go, and that was to show a military success in the bleakest terms possible.
Smith noted Zarqawi was one of many in Iraq responsible for brutality and attempted to downplay the significance of his demise:
"While he is a very key figure there and responsible for heinous, heinous acts, he is just one of thousands, is he not, in Iraq who perpetrate these kinds of acts?"
This set Scheuer up to claim that the death of Zarqawi was beneficial to al Qaeda:
"Yes. And in a way, that is I think hard for Americans to understand in some ways the death of Zarqawi will increase pressure and attacks on Americans, because Zarqawi was so focused on creating a civil war with the Shia. In some ways this is very good news for al Qaeda, because al Qaeda's forces in Iraq will now focus more on Americans, and the Iraqi government, than on simply killing Shias because they're heretical people."
Forge the tireless effort that our troops put in trying to eliminate Zarqawi, apparently it was for not, as Zarqawi’s death helps terrorists, if you believe an analyst who has a history of having a partisan agenda against the administration, as evidenced by his book.
Just to make sure he understood the point, Smith followed up:
"So your feeling is this may be, in fact, more dangerous for Americans in the near term because of Zarqawi's emphasis on killing and killing Shias?"
Scheuer agreed with Smith’s assesment, replying, though he also mentioned Zarqawi’s death was good for America:
"I think that's right. Al Qaeda's worst nightmare is a civil war between Shias and Sunnis. And they had not been able to bring Zarqawi fully back on the reservation. I think this is very good news for Jordan. It's very good news for America. But in terms of the Iraqi insurgency, the insurgency probably will return to more military related targets now."
And just to be sure viewers realized what Zarqawi’s could mean, Smith reiterated:
"So, it's American targets that may go up to the top of the list."
This was contrasted later in the program by Neil Livingstone, CEO of Global Options Inc. Livingstone spoke with Hannah Storm and saw this as a possible turning point if the new Iraqi government seizes on it, but cautioned it’s still too early to tell whether it will be:
"...I think that this is a unique time for the new Iraqi government. It could be a turning point, but we don't know whether it will be. In other words, if they can get their act together, they can present a united front of Sunnis and Shias in that country, and go after the insurgency now while it's back on its heels with all of their might and with all of their effort, maybe we can see some changes. If they miss this opportunity, on the other hand, it may get worse."
It was another statement, however, by Livingstone that may be more telling. Livingstone implied the member of Zarqawi’s inner circle who turned him in, may have been a bin Laden loyalist offended at the fact that Zarqawi appeared to try to replace bin Laden as the head of al Qaeda, as shown by the following exchange:
Hannah Storm: "We heard the President praise the US forces there and David Martin reported this morning Neil that US forces received intelligence from someone inside al Zarqawi's organization. What does that tell you?"
Neil Livingstone: "Well you know it's going to create a lot of speculation and the fact that Zarqawi with his videotape 2 months ago was clearly making a play to become the titular leader in many respects of al Qaeda. You know, Osama bin Laden is hunkered down in the mountains up there; we haven't seen much of him; he's not an operational commander. And so as a consequence Zarqawi was saying look, I'm the guy to rally around today. He gave some nominal support to Osama bin Laden, but this may have indicated that there was a rift within al Qaeda itself."
Will the media pick up on and report potential rifts within al Qaeda as they have with potential rifts in the GOP? I tend to doubt it.