On September 11, 2012, the U.S. Embassy in Benghazi, Libya came under attack when militants overwhelmed guards and set fire to the building, killing four Americans, including a U.S. Ambassador. On September 16, U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice went on Sunday morning political shows to share the latest intelligence, telling America that investigations were still under way but that all information suggested that the attack began as a “spontaneous” protest to an Anti-Muslim video making fun of the Profit Muhammad, and that extremists then took advantage of the protest, evolving it into a full-blown attack.
When further information was released by the C.I.A. confirmed suspicions that the assault was actually carried out by an Islamic extremist group with likely connections to al Qaeda, Rice came under fire. But the Republicans aren’t just accusing her of being wrong. They’re saying she “propagated false information” as part of a political move, in a claim they’ve developed into nothing short of a conspiracy theory. Republicans, led by Sens. John McCain, Lindsay Graham, and Kelly Ayotte, have now been accusing her for months for purposefully covering up terrorist ties to the attack during the election to avoid making Obama look bad. What complicates this is that Rice is a friend and ally to Obama, and most importantly a likely nomination ro replace Hilary Clinton as Secretary of State. 97 members of the House even sent a letter to the president last week opposing Rice’s nomination for her misleading comments. This Tuesday, however, things escalated even further after Rice agreed to meet with her critics, including the three front-runners. But her attempt at dissolving the tension seems to have only made things worse. After the meeting, in which The New York Times reports that Rice admitted her errors but said she never meant to mislead the American public, her opposers were even more critical, now threatening a filibuster to block Rice’s nomination. “Bottom line, I’m more disturbed than I was before,” Mr. Graham said after the closed-door meeting.
Obama was quick to come to her defense, calling the attacks on Rice “outrageous,” vehemently commending her exemplary work for the U.S., and even saying, “If Senator McCain and Senator Graham and others want to go after somebody, they should go after me.” Also in Rice’s defense are the recently released C.I.A. talking points she based her statements on, which align pretty much perfectly with what she said and in my opinion put the blame on the C.I.A. instead. Whether or not Rice should have just recited information fed to her by government officials, or if the motivations of the C.I.A. to withhold the information really had anything to do with the election, is another matter, but it surely means that this wasn’t just Rice’s fault.
Here is what I think is really the most damaging aspect of all of this. The focus on what Rice said back in September, nothing short of villianization, is taking the attention of our politicians, the media, and the public away from the real issue that we should be focusing on. What should we really be taking away from an attack on a U.S. diplomatic post? Pointing fingers at a U.N. Ambassador? Really we should be talking about how/if we can provide the necessary security for diplomats in such dangerous places, and taking another close lookat the threat al Qaeda poses through followers in other countries. I don’t mean to trivialize the importance of holding our delegates accountable for what they say, and I don’t want to give Rice an automatic free pass just because she’s tight with Obama, but the drama around this has gotten almost histrionic.
Besides, since when has truth-seeking been the main goal of the Republicans? Their investigation isn’t even targeted at finding out what was behind the attack, it’s aimed at investigating how their opposing politicians handled it afterwards. Ultimately, Rice is being used as a scapegoat instead of actually asking more critical and fundamentally challenging questions.