Skip to main content
Part of complete coverage from

Republican obsession with Benghazi makes no sense

By Peter Bergen, CNN National Security Analyst
updated 10:31 AM EST, Thu November 29, 2012
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Peter Bergen: Susan Rice's trip to Capitol Hill wasn't a success, senators said
  • He says the GOP continues to bash Rice for her mistaken explanation for Benghazi attack
  • Bergen says the argument that Obama administration deliberately lied doesn't hold up
  • The intelligence community decided not to initially reveal truth about attack, he says

Editor's note: Peter Bergen is CNN's national security analyst and the author of "Manhunt: The Ten-Year Search for bin Laden -- From 9/11 to Abbottabad."

(CNN) -- Ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice, a possible nominee to be the next secretary of state, came to Capitol Hill Tuesday to perform a private mea culpa to key Republican senators for her erroneous initial public statements about the perpetrators of the attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi in September in which four Americans were killed.

It didn't work.

After Tuesday's meeting with Rice, Sen. John McCain said, "It is clear that the information that she gave the American people was incorrect when she said that it was a spontaneous demonstration triggered by a hateful video."

Peter Bergen
Peter Bergen

Sen. Lindsey Graham who also met with Rice observed, "Bottom line: I'm more disturbed now than I was before."

What is the Republican theory of the case against Rice? It appears to boil down to the idea that leading Democrats covered up the involvement of terrorists in some way connected to al Qaeda in the Benghazi attack during the run-up to the close presidential election because President Obama and others in his administration had for some time said that al Qaeda was close to strategic defeat.

News: Rice fails to subdue Republicans' criticism over Libya attack

Become a fan of CNNOpinion
Stay up to date on the latest opinion, analysis and conversations through social media. Join us at Facebook/CNNOpinion and follow us @CNNOpinion on Twitter. We welcome your ideas and comments.



Does this case make sense? First, you would have to accept that Obama, Rice and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton all knowingly deceived the American public about what had happened at the Benghazi consulate.

When this notion was raised in October during the second presidential debate, Obama scolded Republican challenger Mitt Romney saying, "the suggestion that anybody in my team, whether the secretary of state, our U.N. ambassador -- anybody on my team -- would play politics or mislead when we've lost four of our own, Governor, is offensive."

According to a CNN poll released Tuesday most Americans agree with the president and do not believe that anyone in his administration intentionally tried to mislead them about what happened in Benghazi.

Susan Rice responds to Benghazi critics
Rep. Heck explains Susan Rice criticism
McCain: Iraq and Libya entirely different
Ayotte: Rice 'certainly' misled on Libya

Second, it was the intelligence community, not officials at the White House or State Department, that eliminated from the talking points used by Rice after the Benghazi attack the suspected involvement of the Libyan jihadist group, Ansar al-Sharia.

According to accounts of former CIA director David Petraeus' closed door testimony about Benghazi to congressional intelligence committees earlier this month, the intelligence community eliminated references to Ansar al-Sharia in the talking points so as not to tip off members of the terrorist group that the CIA believed that they were responsible for the attack.

Ayotte: Rice 'certainly' misled on Benghazi, but unsure of motive

The conspiracy therefore was not to mislead the American public but to mislead America's enemies.

If Rice had gone beyond her unclassified talking points and said that Ansar al-Sharia was suspected to be behind the Benghazi attacks, no doubt she would now be being hounded for the unauthorized disclosure of classified information.

Third, it is worth recalling that whenever there is a news event in a chaotic country on the other side of the world, first accounts about the event are often wrong.

Remember the erroneous reports about another big news event last year; the death of Osama bin Laden. Initially, it was portrayed by the Obama administration that bin Laden had died during a firefight with U.S. forces in Pakistan and had used his wife as a human shield.

As more accurate information subsequently came in from the field, administration officials clarified that bin Laden put up no resistance and had not used his wife as a shield.

This is not conspiracy; this is the fog of war.

It is also worth recalling that the situation in Benghazi was so chaotic and dangerous that it took three weeks for the FBI to get in to the city to investigate what had happened at the consulate.

And it took even more time for the facts to emerge that the Benghazi mission wasn't really a consulate in any conventional sense, but was more of a CIA listening station and that two of the four Americans who had died in the attack weren't diplomats as initially portrayed but were, in fact, CIA contractors.

Opinion: Why attacks on Rice are misguided

The fact that Republicans have pressed to learn more about the security arrangements at the consulate and security in Benghazi overall as well as the details of what happened the night of the attack has ended up bringing to light much useful information.

But none of that information has changed the basic fact that a tragedy occurred at Benghazi, not a cover up.

Rubio: Why we need answers on Benghazi

Stepping back from the whole debate about how Rice came to make inaccurate public statements about Benghazi, there is another premise of the Republican attacks upon her that deserves considerable skepticism.

We are supposed to believe that because Ansar al-Sharia -- a group inspired by al Qaeda's ideas, but having no links to the terrorist group that attacked the United States on 9/11 -- was able to pull off a deadly attack in a Middle Eastern country ravaged by a recent war against a lightly defended U.S. mission, killing four, that al Qaeda is suddenly an important threat again to the United States.

If you buy that, I have a bridge in Benghazi I'd like to sell you.

Follow @CNNOpinion on Twitter

Join us at Facebook/CNNOpinion

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
updated 8:35 AM EDT, Mon July 21, 2014
Frida Ghitis: Anger over MH17 is growing against pro-Russia separatists. It's time for the Dutch government to lead, she writes
updated 8:27 AM EDT, Mon July 21, 2014
Julian Zelizer says President Obama called inequality the "defining challenge" of our time but hasn't followed through.
updated 7:57 AM EDT, Mon July 21, 2014
Gene Seymour says the 'Rockford Files' actor worked the persona of the principled coward, charming audiences on big and small screen for generations
updated 10:17 AM EDT, Mon July 21, 2014
Daniel Treisman says that when the Russian leader tied his fate to the Ukraine separatists, he set the stage for his current risky predicament
updated 12:42 PM EDT, Fri July 18, 2014
Andrew Kuchins says urgent diplomacy -- not sanctions -- is needed to de-escalate the conflict in Ukraine that helped lead to the downing of an airliner there.
updated 9:50 PM EDT, Fri July 18, 2014
Jim Hall and Peter Goelz say there should be an immediate and thorough investigation into what happened to MH17.
updated 11:07 AM EDT, Fri July 18, 2014
Pilot Bill Palmer says main defense commercial jets have against missiles is to avoid flying over conflict areas.
updated 1:55 PM EDT, Sun July 20, 2014
Valerie Jarrett says that working women should not be discriminated against because they are pregnant.
updated 3:53 PM EDT, Mon July 21, 2014
David Wheeler says the next time you get a difficult customer representative, think about recording the call.
updated 3:33 PM EDT, Fri July 18, 2014
Newt Gingrich says the more dangerous the world becomes the more Obama hides in a fantasy world.
updated 6:11 AM EDT, Fri July 18, 2014
Michael Desch: It's hard to see why anyone, including Russia and its local allies, would have intentionally targeted the Malaysian Airlines flight
updated 3:14 PM EDT, Thu July 17, 2014
LZ Granderson says we must remember our visceral horror at the news of children killed in an airstrike on a Gaza beach next time our politicians talk of war
updated 8:06 AM EDT, Thu July 17, 2014
Sally Kohn says now the House GOP wants to sue Obama for not implementing a law fast enough, a law they voted down 50 times, all reason has left the room.
updated 8:14 AM EDT, Thu July 17, 2014
A street sign for Wall Street
Sens. Elizabeth Warren, John McCain and others want to scale back the "too big to fail" banks that put us at risk of another financial collapse.
updated 4:16 PM EDT, Thu July 17, 2014
Newt Gingrich writes an open letter to Robert McDonald, the nominee to head the Veterans Administration.
updated 12:01 PM EDT, Fri July 18, 2014
Paul Begala says Dick Cheney has caused an inordinate amount of damage yet continues in a relentless effort to revise the history of his failures.
updated 10:04 AM EDT, Fri July 18, 2014
Kids who takes cell phones to bed are not sleeping, says Mel Robbins. Make them park their phones with the parents at night.
updated 1:29 PM EDT, Thu July 17, 2014
Buzz Aldrin looked at planet Earth as he stood on talcum-like lunar dust 45 years ago. He thinks the next frontier should be Mars.
updated 2:04 PM EDT, Wed July 16, 2014
Mark Zeller never thought my Afghan translator would save his life by killing two Taliban fighters who were about to kill him. The Taliban retaliated by placing him on the top of its kill list.
updated 11:18 AM EDT, Thu July 17, 2014
Jeff Yang says an all-white cast of Asian characters in cartoonish costumes is racially offensive.
updated 9:24 PM EDT, Wed July 16, 2014
Gary Ginsberg says the late John F. Kennedy Jr.'s reaction to an event in 1995 summed up his character
updated 12:41 PM EDT, Wed July 16, 2014
Meg Urry says most falling space debris lands on the planet harmlessly and with no witnesses.
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT