Rice: Benghazi attack was spontaneous; Libya: No, it wasn’t

posted at 12:01 pm on September 16, 2012 by Ed Morrissey

There seems to be lingering confusion about the nature of the attack on the Benghazi consulate that cost four Americans their lives, including the first US Ambassador killed in the line of duty since 1979, J. Christopher Stevens.  UN Ambassador Susan Rice insisted on Fox News Sunday that the attack on the consulate on the 11th anniversary of 9/11 was a spontaneous demonstration that just “spun out of control.”  Rice also doubled down on the administration’s claim that the violence is all about the video:

WALLACE:  This week, there have been anti-American protests in two dozen countries across the Islamic world.Tthe White House says it has nothing to do with the president’s policies. Let’s watch.

JAY CARNEY:  This is not a case of protests directed at the United States writ large or at U.S. policy. This is in response to a video that is offensive.

WALLACE: You don’t really believe that?

AMB. RICE: Chris, absolutely I believe that. Because, in fact, it is the case. We had the evolution of the Arab Spring over the last many months but what sparked the recent violence was the airing on the Internet of a very hateful very offensive video that has offended many people around the world. Now, our strong view is that there is no excuse for violence. It is reprehensible and never justified. But in fact there have been those in various parts of the world who have reacted with violence. Their governments have increasingly and effectively responded and protected our facilities and condemned the violence and this outrageous response to what is an offensive video. But there is no question what we have seen in the past with things like Satanic Verses and cartoons of the Prophet Mohammad there have been such things that have sparked outrage and anger and this has been the proximate cause.

WALLACE: It may have sparked it but you critics say that the outpouring of outrage against the U.S. has everything to do with the U.S. policies. That we are disengaging from that part of the world that we pulled out of Iraq, we are are pulling out of Afghanistan, that Iran is continuing on with its nuclear program and they say our critics is that our allies no longer trust us and our enemies no longer fear us.

AMB. RICE:  Well, Chris, that is just false. Le’s be plain. Our partners and allies value voters responded effectively and promptly when we have asked them to protect our facilities and our people.

National Journal picks up on Rice’s flat-out insistence later in the interview with Chris Wallace that the Benghazi attack had no element of premeditation or planning:

Susan Rice, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, maintained on Sunday that the attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi was not planned by terrorist groups. She said the attack spun out of protests, which were sparked by an anti-Islamic video produced in the U.S.

“This was not a pre-planned, pre-meditated attack,” she said on Fox News Sunday. “What happened initially was a spontaneous reaction to what had just transpired in Cairo as a consequence of the video. People gathered outside the embassy and then it grew very violent. People with extremist ties joined the fray and came with heavy weapons—which, unfortunately, are quite common in post-revolutionary Libya—and that then spun out of control.”

Rice told Jake Tapper on ABC’s This Week that the US response was not impotent, and again insisted that the attacks were spontaneous:

“We’re not impotent,were not even less popular to challenge that assessment” said Rice. ” What happened this week in Cairo, in Benghazi and many other parts of the region was a result, a direct result, of a heinous and offensive video that was widely disseminated, that the U.S. government had nothing to do with, which we have made clear is reprehensible and disgusting.” …

“Our current best assessment, based on the information that we have at present, is that, in fact, what this began as, it was a spontaneous – not a premeditated – response to what had transpired in Cairo,” Rice told me this morning on “This Week.” …

“We believe that folks in Benghazi, a small number of people came to the embassy to – or to the consulate, rather, to replicate the sort of challenge that was posed in Cairo,” Rice said. “And then as that unfolded, it seems to have been hijacked, let us say, by some individual clusters of extremists who came with heavier weapons… And it then evolved from there.”

That comes as news to the Libyan government, which has now arrested 50 people in connection to the murders and the attack on the consulate.  Libyan President Mohamed Magariaf told CBS’ Face the Nation that the attack was planned for months by people who had infiltrated Libya from other nations specifically for the attack:

About 50 arrests have been made in connection with the attack on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi in which the American Ambassador and three other consulate employees were killed, and some of the suspects involved are from outside the country, Libya’s president told CBS News.

In an interview for “Face the Nation” Sunday, President Mohamed Magariaf also said that evidence “leaves us with no doubt” that the attack was pre-planned.

“It was planned, definitely, it was planned by foreigners, by people who entered the country a few months ago, and they were planning this criminal act since their arrival,” he told Bob Schieffer.

So who to believe?  Magariaf’s statement is more against his interests, at least on the surface.  He’d have some benefit from the argument that the consulate got sacked in a spontaneous eruption of anger, because it would let his security forces off the hook for missing the extensive plot that Magariaf now asserts was in place.  It could also be a ploy to crack down on radial Islamist networks in the eastern part of Libya, which otherwise might be difficult for the weak central government to undertake, but an admission of weakness in the first place might not be in Tripoli’s best interests.  Also, it’s possible that Magariaf might be right about the plot and wrong about the plotters, or at least not entirely forthcoming, if the Libyan security forces have been penetrated by the radicals, but that still means Rice’s explanation is entirely wrong.

Fortunately, Rep. Mike Rogers, who chairs the House Intelligence Committee,  points out a few facts that support Magariaf’s contention and refute Rice’s:

However, Rep. Mike Rogers, the House Intelligence Committee chairman, said the evidence pointed in the other direction, citing the style and coordination of the attack.

“I think it’s too early to make that conclusion,” Rogers said on the same show [as Rice]. “The way that the attack took place, I have serious questions. It seemed to be a military-style, coordinated. They had indirect fire coordinated with direct fire, rocket attacks. They were able to launch two different separate attacks on locations there near the consulate and they repelled a fairly significant Libyan force that came to rescue the embassy.”

The betrayal of the supposedly “safe house” also tends to support Magariaf’s assertion.  An angry mob wouldn’t have organized well enough for that kind of pursuit and intelligence, unless the Libyan security forces in the know simply and “spontaneously” decided to throw in with the mob, which is possible but pretty unlikely.  The coordination and purposeful strategy in play shows premeditation and planning, and that means it’s not just an angry mob that spontaneously “spun out of control.”

Maybe someone should ask the State Department to explain the difference in conclusions.  Oh, that’s right, that part of the US government has declared itself immune from public scrutiny.  Bummer.  Because if this attack wasn’t the “spontaneous” event that “spun out of control” that Rice insists it was, then State and the White House have a lot to answer for on their preparations and security decisions for the anniversary of 9/11 in a part of Libya well known to be haven to radical Islamist terror networks — including al-Qaeda.

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