I was channel surfing this morning and happened to catch a few minutes of Chris Wallace talking to Claire McCaskill. The subject, yet again, was Benghazi. Why did Susan Rice blame the video? Also: Two sources said they knew it was a terrorist attack immediately, so why didn’t Rice say that? We need these questions answered!
I know, I know. It’s my fault for watching TV. But Jesus. Chris Wallace knows the answers to these questions. He has to know. But just in case he still doesn’t, here they are:
Why did Susan Rice blame the video?
On Chris Wallace’s own show aired four days after the Benghazi attack, here’s what Susan Rice said:
Well, first of all, Chris, we are obviously investigating this very closely. The FBI has a lead in this investigation. The information, the best information and the best assessment we have today is that in fact this was not a preplanned, premeditated attack. That what happened initially was that it was a spontaneous reaction to what had just transpired in Cairo as a consequence of the video. People gathered outside the embassy and then it grew very violent and those with extremist ties joined the fray and came with heavy weapons, which unfortunately are quite common in post-revolutionary Libya and that then spun out of control.
But we don’t see at this point signs this was a coordinated plan, premeditated attack. Obviously, we will wait for the results of the investigation and we don’t want to jump to conclusions before then. But I do think it’s important for the American people to know our best current assessment.
Rice was very clear that she was providing a preliminary judgment. She was very clear about the role of the video: It had inspired protests in Cairo earlier in the week. She was very clear that we believed the Cairo protests sparked protests in Benghazi. She was very clear that we believed this provided extremist groups with a chance to launch an opportunistic attack.
In the end, almost all of this turned out to be true. The video did spark protests in Cairo. Some of the Benghazi attackers were motivated by the video. The attack wasn’t premeditated: it was planned no more than a few hours previously. The only part Rice got wrong was that there were, in fact, no initial protests in Benghazi. That was the best reporting we had at the time, but it turned out to be incorrect.
A couple of sources said they reported immediately that it was a preplanned terrorist attack. Why didn’t Rice and the rest of the Obama administration say that?
Because the intelligence community had multiple sources of reporting about Benghazi, and they conflicted. How hard can it be to understand this? Besides, the best evidence we have today is that it wasn’t a preplanned attack. It was an opportunistic attack organized in less than a day. What’s more, the groups that led the attack had only the most tenuous ties to Al Qaeda.
Aside from that, there’s this continuing weird totem around the word “terrorist.” What’s the point of this? Hillary Clinton called the attackers a “small and savage group.” Susan Rice called them extremists. Others used different words. It’s hard to understand why this matters. The attack was carried out by mostly local militant groups with mostly local grievances and no serious ties to Al Qaeda. The precise word you use to describe these folks can’t possibly be that important, can it?
And an aside….
Critics have focused heavily on the fact that the Obama administration blamed the “Innocence of Muslims” video for the violence that had erupted around the Middle East and then, indirectly, provoked the attacks in Benghazi. But I think everyone needs a trip down memory lane here. That video was a very, very big deal at the time. Maybe everyone has now forgotten this, but it did spark riots all over the region and it was the subject of nearly constant coverage in the local media both before and after the Benghazi attacks. The notion that it was responsible for regional violence at the time and at least partially responsible for what happened in Benghazi was hardly some bizarre flight of fancy.