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December 22, 2012

GOP's odd Benghazi fixation sunk Rice

The Daily Star

---- — It’s hard to recall a more blatant partisan witch hunt in recent memory than the fall of U.N. ambassador Susan Rice, who was widely seen as the frontrunner to replace retiring Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. 

Rice’s alleged crime came in the aftermath of the attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya, when she appeared on Sunday talk shows and repeated talking points from intelligence reports that the attack was part of the spontaneous demonstrations against an anti-Islam film.

The attack, which killed U.S. ambassador Chris Stevens, was carried out by an al-Qaeda affiliated terrorist group, Ansar al-Sharia. But it was also later revealed during the November testimony of ex-CIA director David Petraeus that references to Ansar al-Sharia were intentionally omitted from the information provided to Rice before her appearances; intelligence officials were afraid the group would learn that it was the target of a CIA probe. 

Beyond that, intelligence reports still haven’t ruled out a link between the attack and the wave of outrage over the anti-Islam film that was sweeping the region. No evidence has emerged that U.S. intelligence knew of a specific date for an imminent attack, and by timing the attack to coincide with other demonstrations, the terrorists may have hoped to inspire further attacks. 

It’s difficult to see, therefore, how Rice could have been intentionally misleading anyone. And the embassy security responsible for protecting Stevens was never Rice’s responsibility. 

But Republican Sens. John McCain and Lindsey Graham insist that a scandal is afoot, no matter how much the facts suggested otherwise. McCain said “this president and this administration has either been guilty of colossal incompetence or engaged in a cover-up, neither of which are acceptable to the American people.” 

These criticisms might seem more sincere had GOP Reps. Darrell Issa, Paul Ryan and Jason Chaffetz not voted to cut the Obama administration’s requests for embassy security funding by $128 million in 2011 and $331 million in 2012. And when Condoleezza Rice was nominated for secretary of state in 2005 despite her misleading claims that led to the invasion of Iraq, McCain and Graham defended her. Graham even said: “Every intelligence agency in the world was misled. And to connect those two to say that she’s a liar is very unfair.” 

A cynic would say McCain and Graham are motivated by the prospect of Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., replacing Clinton, which would open a seat for ex-Sen. Scott Brown to regain for the GOP.

The Benghazi saga was no doubt a failure by the State Department. But such risks are par for the course in such a dangerous line of work. And since they aren’t fooling anyone, McCain and Graham can stop with the feigned indignation any time.