On Friday, former CIA chief and retired General David Petraeus testified about the Benghazi attacks at a closed Congressional hearing that included members of the House and Senate intelligence committees.
Petraeus testified that after the attack, he immediately suspected terrorism, but initially it was thought that a spontaneous response to an anti-Muslim video had provided cover for the terrorists. The CIA prepared a draft of talking points that were then circulated to other intelligence offices for vetting. At some point a line that named some groups allied with al Qaeda was removed from the draft. According to the NYT, the references to the groups were removed in order to “avoid tipping them off” to the investigation.
“The points were not, as has been insinuated by some, edited to minimize the role of extremists, diminish terrorist affiliations, or play down that this was an attack,” said a senior official familiar with the drafting of the talking points. “There were legitimate intelligence and legal issues to consider, as is almost always the case when explaining classified assessments publicly.”
Some intelligence analysts worried, for instance, that identifying the groups could reveal that American spy services were eavesdropping on the militants — a fact most insurgents are already aware of. Justice Department lawyers expressed concern about jeopardizing the F.B.I.’s criminal inquiry in the attacks. Other officials voiced concern that making the names public, at least right away, would create a circular reporting loop and hamper efforts to trail the militants.
Democrats said Mr. Petraeus made it clear the change had not been done for political reasons to aid Mr. Obama. “The general was adamant there was no politicization of the process, no White House interference or political agenda,” said Representative Adam B. Schiff, Democrat of California.
Senator Mark Udall, Democrat of Colorado, said that Mr. Petraeus explained to lawmakers that the final document was put in front of all the senior agency leaders, including Mr. Petraeus, and everyone signed off on it.
UN Ambassador Susan Rice was designated as the White House spokesperson who would appear on Sunday morning shows five days after the attack and explain what was known thus far. Rice used the talking points she was given, explaining that the investigations was ongoing. She did not say what John McCain keeps insisting she said–that the attacks definitely arose out of a spontaneous demonstration triggered by the film and by numerous demonstrations in Egypt and other countries. Here are the talking points:
“The currently available information suggests that the demonstrations in Benghazi were spontaneously inspired by the protests at the U.S. Embassy in Cairo and evolved into a direct assault against the U.S. diplomatic post in Benghazi and subsequently its annex. There are indications that extremists participated in the violent demonstrations.
“This assessment may change as additional information is collected and analyzed and as currently available information continues to be evaluated.
“The investigation is ongoing, and the U.S. government is working with Libyan authorities to bring to justice those responsible for the deaths of U.S. citizens.”
Basically, Petraeus’ testimony exonerated Rice of Republican accusations that she deliberately covered up evidence that terrorists had attacked the consulate.
Why on earth would Rice have done that anyway? Who the hell didn’t consider an attack on a U.S. consulate and the murders of Ambassador Stevens and three other State Department employees to be terrorist acts? As Mitt Romney learned during the second presidential debate, President Obama referred to the attacks as terrorist acts the very next day in his Rose Garden speech. Why would the White House try to cover up a terrorist attack on a consulate? That makes no sense. There were many terrorist attacks on embassies during the Bush administration–did any of those lead to these kinds of accusations and conspiracy theories? This entire “controversy” is complete nonsense, and everyone knows it at this point.
But the witch hunt continues. John McCain, Lindsey Graham, and other Republicans were invited on the Sunday shows so they could continue their bizarre accusations against the Obama administration and Susan Rice.
Yesterday, according to TPM, McCain
said that nothing he learned in a closed-door briefing Friday with former CIA Director David Petraeus would change his criticism of U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice’s initial public statements about the Sept.11 Benghazi attack.
Asked Saturday at a press conference at the Halifax International Security Forum if anything he was told by Petraeus would change his assessment of what Rice knew and the statements she made, McCain said, “No, because I knew it was a terrorist attack from the beginning. People don’t go to spontaneous demonstrations with mortars and RPGs.”
Again, anyone with half a brain immediately knew that the attack was, by definition, terrorism. Duh! But we’re supposed to be impressed that McCain knew it too?
McCain reiterated that it should have been immediately apparent to the administration that the Benghazi attack was not triggered by Libyan demonstrators protesting an anti-Muslim YouTube video. “There were people who were at the consulate who flew to Germany the next day. They knew there was no spontaneous demonstration. They knew that. And they were interviewed. So there should have been no doubt whatsoever of that,” McCain said.
So? Why should we care about such a picayune point? President Obama has said that an investigation is needed and is ongoing. He has said that any and all information on the attacks and the investigation will be provided to Congress. Where is the beef here?
Yesterday Dana Millbank piled on, claiming Rice has a “tarnished resume” and that she’s “ill-equipped to be the nation’s top diplomat for reasons that have little to do with Libya.”
Even in a town that rewards sharp elbows and brusque personalities, Rice has managed to make an impressive array of enemies — on Capitol Hill, in Foggy Bottom and abroad. Particularly in comparison with the other person often mentioned for the job, Sen. John Kerry, she can be a most undiplomatic diplomat, and there likely aren’t enough Republican or Democratic votes in the Senate to confirm her.
Back when she was an assistant secretary of state during the Clinton administration, she appalled colleagues by flipping her middle finger at Richard Holbrooke during a meeting with senior staff at the State Department, according to witnesses. Colleagues talk of shouting matches and insults.
Among those she has insulted is the woman she would replace at State. Rice was one of the first former Clinton administration officials to defect to Obama’s primary campaign against Hillary Clinton. Rice condemned Clinton’s Iraq and Iran positions, asking for an “explanation of how and why she got those critical judgments wrong.”
That may well be. I know very little about Rice, and I do recall she was aggressive toward Hillary in 2008–but that was her job as foreign policy adviser to an opposing candidate. Rice also insulted McCain in 2008, according to Millbank.
Rice’s put-down of Clinton was tame compared with her portrayal of McCain during 2008, which no doubt contributes to McCain’s hostility toward her today. She mocked McCain’s trip to Iraq (“strolling around the market in a flak jacket”), called his policies “reckless” and said “his tendency is to shoot first and ask questions later. It’s dangerous.”
I’d say that’s a pretty good description of McCain and his policies, even though it may seem harsh to Millbank. McCain is a publicity hound and he tends to go off half-cocked, as his campaign against Rice clearly demonstrates. But perhaps this does provide a bit of insight into McCain’s hatred of Rice. Apparently he will soon lose his chairmanship of the Armed Services Committee, and he may simply be searching for away to remain relevant in the Senate.
This morning, Maureen Dowd claimed that Rice sought out the opportunity to speak for the White House on Beghazi.
Ambitious to be secretary of state, Susan Rice wanted to prove she had the gravitas for the job and help out the White House. So the ambassador to the United Nations agreed to a National Security Council request to go on all five Sunday shows to talk about the attack on the American consulate in Libya.
“She saw this as a great opportunity to go out and close the stature gap,” said one administration official. “She was focused on the performance, not the content. People said, ‘It’s sad because it was one of her best performances.’ But it’s not a movie, it’s the news. Everyone in politics thinks, you just get your good talking points and learn them and reiterate them on camera. But what if they’re not good talking points? What if what you’re saying isn’t true, even if you’re saying it well?”
OK, what if that were true? Does Rice deserve to be hunted down, tarred and feathered, and run out of Washington on a rail? Or should she be burned at the stake? What is the appropriate punishment for relying on unclassified talking points that didn’t reveal sensitive information five days after the attacks? Do tell, Maureen.
How much longer is this nonsense going to continue? Are we going to go through another “Whitewater” investigation, based on little or nothing of significance? It sure looks that way.
Let’s compare the reaction of the media and the Republicans to the Benghazi attacks and the reaction of the media and Democrats to the 9/11/2001 terrorist attacks that killed about 3,000 people. The Bush administration had innumerable warnings that attacks were coming, and they did absolutely nothing to prevent them. They pooh-poohed warnings by the Clinton administration that terrorism was a vital concern. After the attacks, the Bush administration resisted having Congressional investigations for two years!
There were no specific warnings about the Benghazi attacks, although there were many vague warnings and threats. Four State Department employees were killed in Benghazi–a terrible tragedy. But does anyone truly believe that John McCain cares about these murders? If he did, he wouldn’t be focusing on one supposed misstatement by Susan Rice or some minor disagreement about how talking points were prepared.
No, if McCain gave a shit, he’d be looking into ways to prevent attacks like the ones in Benghazi in the future. One way to do that might be to provide adequate protection for U.S. diplomats, right? But Republican refused to vote for increased funds for such State Department security needs.
Here’s an interesting piece at The Atlantic, in which David Rohde argues that both parties have ignored the “primary lesson” of Benghazi: Diplomacy Can’t Be Done on the Cheap.
One major overlooked cause of the death of Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans is we have underfunded the State Department and other civilian agencies that play a vital role in our national security. Instead of building up cadres of skilled diplomatic security guards, we have bought them from the lowest bidder, trying to acquire capacity and expertise on the cheap. Benghazi showed how vulnerable that makes us….
The slapdash security that killed Stevens, technician Sean Smith and CIA guards Tyrone Woods and Glen Doherty started with a seemingly inconsequential decision by Libya’s new government. After the fall of Muammar Qaddafi, Libya’s interim government barred armed private security firms – foreign and domestic – from operating anywhere in the country.
So the State Department was forced to cobble together inadequate protection for the Libyan embassy and its outposts, because they have become reliant on outside contractors instead of building their own in-house security corps. According to Rohde,
Resource shortages and a reliance on contractors caused bitter divisions between field officers in Benghazi and State Department managers in Washington.
One agent who served on the ground in Benghazi felt the compound needed five times as many Diplomatic Security agents, according to a State Department official who spoke on condition of anonymity. The official singled out Charlene Lamb, the Diplomatic Security Service official who oversees security in Washington, for criticism — saying she rejected repeated requests for additional improvements in Benghazi….
Lamb’s superior, David Kennedy, has defended her. He argued that a handful of additional Diplomatic Security guards in Benghazi – or the Special Forces team in Tripoli – would not have made a difference.
To date, no evidence has emerged that officials higher than Lamb or Kennedy were involved in the decision to reject the requests from Libya. Both are career civil servants, not Obama administration appointees.
Now this issue would be well worth investigating and correcting! But it doesn’t involve political employees like Susan Rice who can be pilloried for the Republicans’ political purposes. I’ve always believed the use of contractors was a huge mistake, but the Bush administration even turned much of our war-making in Iraq and Afghanistan. So correcting this problem would be hugely expensive and would require bi-partisan cooperation.
Instead, Republicans will continue to focus on minor issues, hoping to build them into impeachable offenses. And Susan Rice may be the designated scapegoat if they can’t get to Obama himself.
This has developed into an overly long rant, so I’ll bring it to a close by saying that I’m no great fan of Susan Rice, and frankly I’d prefer John Kerry as Secretary of State. But the current nonsensical fight over the talking points Rice used on Sunday Shows is childish and ridiculous. I don’t know how much more of it I can stand.