Skip to main content
Part of complete coverage from

Republican obsession with Benghazi makes no sense

By Peter Bergen, CNN National Security Analyst
November 29, 2012 -- Updated 1531 GMT (2331 HKT)
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
December 25, 2014 -- Updated 0633 GMT (1433 HKT)
Danny Cevallos says the legislature didn't have to get involved in regulating how people greet each other
December 23, 2014 -- Updated 2312 GMT (0712 HKT)
Marc Harrold suggests a way to move forward after the deaths of NYPD officers Wenjian Liu and Rafael Ramos.
December 24, 2014 -- Updated 1336 GMT (2136 HKT)
Simon Moya-Smith says Mah-hi-vist Goodblanket, who was killed by law enforcement officers, deserves justice.
December 24, 2014 -- Updated 1914 GMT (0314 HKT)
Val Lauder says that for 1,700 years, people have been debating when, and how, to celebrate Christmas
December 23, 2014 -- Updated 2027 GMT (0427 HKT)
Raphael Sperry says architects should change their ethics code to ban involvement in designing torture chambers
December 24, 2014 -- Updated 0335 GMT (1135 HKT)
Paul Callan says Sony is right to call for blocking the tweeting of private emails stolen by hackers
December 23, 2014 -- Updated 1257 GMT (2057 HKT)
As Christmas arrives, eyes turn naturally toward Bethlehem. But have we got our history of Christmas right? Jay Parini explores.
December 23, 2014 -- Updated 0429 GMT (1229 HKT)
The late Joe Cocker somehow found himself among the rock 'n' roll aristocracy who showed up in Woodstock to help administer a collective blessing upon a generation.
December 23, 2014 -- Updated 2115 GMT (0515 HKT)
History may not judge Obama kindly on Syria or even Iraq. But for a lame duck president, he seems to have quacking left to do, says Aaron Miller.
December 23, 2014 -- Updated 1811 GMT (0211 HKT)
Terrorism and WMD -- it's easy to understand why these consistently make the headlines. But small arms can be devastating too, says Rachel Stohl.
December 22, 2014 -- Updated 1808 GMT (0208 HKT)
Ever since "Bridge-gate" threatened to derail Chris Christie's chances for 2016, Jeb Bush has been hinting he might run. Julian Zelizer looks at why he could win.
December 20, 2014 -- Updated 1853 GMT (0253 HKT)
New York's decision to ban hydraulic fracturing was more about politics than good environmental policy, argues Jeremy Carl.
December 20, 2014 -- Updated 2019 GMT (0419 HKT)
On perhaps this year's most compelling drama, the credits have yet to roll. But we still need to learn some cyber lessons to protect America, suggest John McCain.
December 22, 2014 -- Updated 2239 GMT (0639 HKT)
Conservatives know easing the trade embargo with Cuba is good for America. They should just admit it, says Fareed Zakaria.
December 20, 2014 -- Updated 0112 GMT (0912 HKT)
We're a world away from Pakistan in geography, but not in sentiment, writes Donna Brazile.
December 19, 2014 -- Updated 1709 GMT (0109 HKT)
How about a world where we have murderers but no murders? The police still chase down criminals who commit murder, we have trials and justice is handed out...but no one dies.
December 18, 2014 -- Updated 2345 GMT (0745 HKT)
The U.S. must respond to North Korea's alleged hacking of Sony, says Christian Whiton. Failing to do so will only embolden it.
December 19, 2014 -- Updated 2134 GMT (0534 HKT)
President Obama has been flexing his executive muscles lately despite Democrat's losses, writes Gloria Borger
December 18, 2014 -- Updated 1951 GMT (0351 HKT)
Jeff Yang says the film industry's surrender will have lasting implications.
December 18, 2014 -- Updated 2113 GMT (0513 HKT)
Newt Gingrich: No one should underestimate the historic importance of the collapse of American defenses in the Sony Pictures attack.
December 10, 2014 -- Updated 1255 GMT (2055 HKT)
Dean Obeidallah asks how the genuine Stephen Colbert will do, compared to "Stephen Colbert"
December 18, 2014 -- Updated 1734 GMT (0134 HKT)
Some GOP politicians want drug tests for welfare recipients; Eric Liu says bailed-out execs should get equal treatment
December 18, 2014 -- Updated 1342 GMT (2142 HKT)
Louis Perez: Obama introduced a long-absent element of lucidity into U.S. policy on Cuba.
December 16, 2014 -- Updated 1740 GMT (0140 HKT)
The slaughter of more than 130 children by the Pakistani Taliban may prove as pivotal to Pakistan's security policy as the 9/11 attacks were for the U.S., says Peter Bergen.
ADVERTISEMENT