Other voices: Apology is due

BloombergMay 17, 2013 

So it turns out that Susan Rice, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations and, before a group of leading Senate Republicans decided that she was evil incarnate, a top contender to replace Hillary Clinton as secretary of state, had nothing to do with formulating the White House's response to the fatal attacks last year at the American diplomatic mission in Benghazi, Libya. Republican Sens. Lindsey Graham and John McCain, among others, argued for weeks that Rice was a crucial cog in a huge conspiracy to hide the facts of Benghazi from the American people.

The truth, as they saw it, was that the administration was desperate to blame the tragedy on rioters angered about an anti-Muslim video, rather than a terrorist attack by extremists with links to al-Qaida, because the president saw his anti- terrorism accomplishments as an important advantage in his reelection bid.

The talking points were a product of the intelligence community; they originated in a request by members of Congress to David Petraeus, then the director of the Central Intelligence Agency, for an unclassified version of the summary of events he had presented to them on Sept. 14. The talking points were edited and re-edited, then sent to the State Department, whose spokeswoman, Victoria Nuland, read them. In his New York Times column, David Brooks noted that the talking points -- each iteration of them, in fact -- stated that the attacks were inspired by protests in Cairo, and that al-Qaida-linked radicals had participated in the attacks. The day before Rice's fateful talk-show appearances, there was more haggling over the talking points, and they were watered down further.

Rice's crime was simply to lean on a document that was produced in a chaotic atmosphere by bureaucrats working with imperfect information and perhaps some turf to protect.

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