The Problem With Susan Rice

The Problem With Susan Rice

By Carl M. Cannon - November 23, 2012

This time it was President Obama who blew the dog whistle.

It happened during his Nov. 14 post-reelection press conference at the White House. Instead of merely reveling in his victory and extending a gracious hand to the vanquished Republicans, the president chose to escalate his growing rift with John McCain and Lindsey Graham over the future of Susan Rice, U.S. ambassador to the United Nations.

The backstory was the anticipated departure of Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and the White House’s floating of Rice’s name as a possible successor. If this was a trial balloon, it didn’t get far off the ground: McCain and Graham -- two of the more cooperative Republicans in the Senate -- expressed reservations about confirming a secretary of state who had provided the American public with misleading explanations of the Sept. 11 burning and sacking of the U.S. consulate in Libya, and the murders of four Americans there.

In Susan Rice’s telling, the killings were an unanticipated -- and unpreventable -- tragedy sparked by a demonstration at the Benghazi consulate, similar to one that happened earlier in the day in Cairo. Although careful to issue the caveat that all the facts weren’t in yet, in five appearances on the Sunday talk shows on Sept. 16, Rice dutifully repeated administration talking points consisting of the following assertions:

(1) The attack grew out of a spontaneous protest against a “very offensive” video spoof of the Prophet Mohammed making the rounds on YouTube.

(2) Extremist elements present on the ground in Benghazi took advantage of the situation to essentially “hijack” the demonstrations.

(3) These extremists had access to the heavy weapons necessary to destroy the U.S. compound because they were “quite common” in Libya these days.

(4) The attack was not plotted ahead of time by Islamic militants or terrorist organizations affiliated with al-Qaeda.

“This is a response to a hateful and offensive video that was widely disseminated throughout the Arab and Muslim world,” Rice told NBC’s David Gregory. “The best assessment we have today,” she added when talking to CBS’s Bob Schieffer, “is that in fact this was not a pre-planned, premeditated attack.”

But was this really the “best” assessment?

David Petraeus, who headed the CIA at the time, indicated in closed-door testimony to Congress last week that the agency realized rather quickly that the Benghazi ambush was deliberately planned by al-Qaeda-affiliated terrorists, although it’s unclear how explicitly he communicated this view at the time.

What is known is that within a day of the attack, Libya’s interim president, Mohammed el-Megarif, publicly proclaimed the attack the work of foreign operatives who had infiltrated his country and recruited Libyans to carry it out. He said it was months in the making, and suggested that no anti-video demonstration took place at all in Libya.

“The idea that this criminal and cowardly act was a spontaneous protest that just spun out of control is completely unfounded and preposterous,” Megarif said. “We firmly believe that this was a pre-calculated, pre-planned attack that was carried out specifically to attack the U.S. consulate.”

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Carl M. Cannon is the Washington Bureau Chief for RealClearPolitics. Reach him on Twitter @CarlCannon.

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