Just last week, the president adamantly defended his Ambassador to the United Nations, Susan Rice, who is widely rumored to be a leading contender to replace Hillary Clinton at State. Rice appeared on all five Sunday morning shows on September 16, five days after the deadly 9/11 attacks. She advanced three core assertions for public consumption:
(3) Our security presence at our diplomatic mission in Benghazi was "substantial." (The fact that the consulate was sacked -- and four Americans, including a sitting ambassador, were murdered in the process -- is clear evidence that our security measures was unforgivably and demonstrably insubstantial. To try to say otherwise is outright insulting. To say nothing of the various subsequent revelations that Amb. Stevens and his team begged for more security on numerous occasions, but were denied. The State Department actually reduced its American security presence in the country; this, in spite of glaring warning signs that our interests were far from protected.
Obama's primary defense of Rice was that she simply articulated the talking points she was provided "at the request of the White House:"
“As I said before, she made an appearance at the request of the White House in which she gave her best understanding of the intelligence that had been provided to her,” Obama said at the press conference, defending the statements the ambassador to the U.N. made regarding the Benghazi attack.
He also famously urged Republican critics to "go after" him, and lay off Rice. Big, strong tough guy that he is, and all that. Former CIA Director David Petraeus testified under oath last week that the US intelligence community knew "almost immediately" that the Benghazi ambush was the handiwork of a terrorist network, suggesting that the talking points Rice disseminated on television were crafted to drive a narrative other than the facts. (Remember, Obama has taken faux umbrage at the mere suggestion that any information was withheld from the public at any stage). Over the weekend, a journalist at the Washington Guardian (and formerly of the Associated Press and Washington Post) revealed that President Obama was personally and specifically briefed within three days that the massacre was an organized jihadist operation:
U.S. intelligence told President Barack Obama and senior administration officials within 72 hours of the Benghazi tragedy that the attack was likely carried out by local militia and other armed extremists sympathetic to al-Qaida in the region, officials directly familiar with the information told the Washington Guardian on Friday. Based on electronic intercepts and human intelligence on the ground, the early briefings after the deadly Sept. 11 attack on the U.S. consulate in Libya identified possible organizers and participants. Most were believed to be from a local Libyan militia group called Ansar al-Sharia that is sympathetic to al-Qaida, the official said, while a handful of others was linked to a direct al-Qaida affiliate in North Africa known as AQIM. Those briefings also raised the possibility that the attackers may have been inspired both by spontaneous protests across the globe on the 11th anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks and by a desire to seek vengeance for the U.S. killing last summer of a Libyan-born leader of al-Qaida named Abu Yaya al-Libi, the officials said, speaking only on condition of anonymity because they were discussing intelligence matters.
The report, which cites numerous US intelligence officials, alleges that the script provided to Rice was watered down, with references to Al Qaeda "edited or excluded:"
Rice's performance on the Sunday talk shows has become a source of controversy between Congress and the White House. Lawmakers, particularly Republicans, have questioned whether the administration was trying to mislead the country by suggesting the Benghazi attack was like the spontaneous protests that had occurred elsewhere on Sept. 11, in places like Egypt. Obama has defended Rice, and he and his top aides have insisted politics was not involved. They argue the administration's shifting story was the result of changing intelligence. U.S. intelligence officials said Friday, however, the assessment that the tragedy was an attack by extremists with al-Qaida links was well defined within 48 to 72 hours.
So just in case there was any lingering doubt about if and when President Obama was made aware of the truth, now we know. Of course, one would imagine that if (a) if our people in Benghazi were urgently warning of an imminent organized assault several hours before it occurred, and (b) if people inside the White House watched the raid unfold in real time over a video feed for seven hours, and (c) if there were reports of an Al Qaeda affiliate claiming credit for the attack within two hours, the president probably would have been informed about the terrorism intel far sooner than 72 hours later -- even if he did sleep through the attack itself, during which our besieged personnel were pleading for back-up that never came.
All that aside, Susan Rice wasn't merely allowed to appear on television with faulty talking points, she was specifically given a bowdlerized version of events to share with the public. Also, Obama himself was still hemming and hawing about whether Benghazi was a terrorist attack during his appearance on The View -- two weeks later. Why? Obama's defenders will simultaneously claim that all of this will be covered in the "ongoing investigation," while insisting that it had absolutely nothing to do with politics. Senator McCain doesn't believe that for a second, and neither should you. The White House would have us believe that we just couldn't be told basic truths about the nature of the attack....because of "national security," or something. This is an entirely insufficient explanation that strains credulity, to put things politely. If this administration was so concerned about national security why were our ambassador's requests related to his own personal safety disregarded? And why was our bombed-out consulate left unattended and unsecured for weeks (update: months) after the attack, allowing random journalists and God knows who else to sift through the sensitive documents that were strewn throughout the compound? I'll leave you with liberal columnist Dana Milbank making the case against Susan Rice for Secretary of State:
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...
It’s true that, in her much-criticized TV performance, she was reciting talking points given to her by the intelligence agencies. But that’s the trouble. Rice stuck with her points even though they had been contradicted by the president of the Libyan National Assembly, who, on CBS’s “Face the Nation” just before Rice, said there was “no doubt” that the attack on Americans in Benghazi “was preplanned.” Rice rebutted the Libyan official, arguing — falsely, it turned out — that there was no evidence of such planning. True, Rice was following orders from the White House, which she does well. But the nation’s top diplomat needs to show more sensitivity and independence — traits Clinton has demonstrated in abundance. Obama can do better at State than Susan Rice.
Watch it, Dana. You wouldn't want to be labeled a sexist racist, now would you?