Rice should have been wary of a White House staff with a tendency to gild the lily, with her pal Valerie Jarrett and other staffers zealous about casting the president in a more flattering light, like national security officials filigreeing the story of the raid on Osama to say Bin Laden fought back. Did administration officials foolishly assume that if affiliates of Al Qaeda were to blame, it would dilute the credit the president got for decimating Al Qaeda? Were aides overeager to keep Mitt Romney, who had stumbled after the Benghazi attack by accusing the president of appeasing Islamic extremists, on the defensive?

Writing in a 2002 book about President Clinton’s failure to intervene in the genocide in Rwanda, Samantha Power, now a National Security Council official, suggested that Rice was swayed by domestic politics when, as a rising star at the N.S.C. who would soon become Clinton’s director for African affairs, she mused about the ’94 midterms, “If we use the word ‘genocide’ and are seen as doing nothing, what will be the effect on the November election?”

An Africa expert, Rice should have realized that when a gang showed up with R.P.G.’s and mortars in a place known as a hotbed of Qaeda sympathizers and Islamic extremist training camps, it was not anger over a movie. She should have been savvy enough to wonder why the wily Hillary was avoiding the talk shows.