Still can’t explain what Rice said: Yesterday morning, the New York Times published a very important report.
(Too bad it appeared on page 6.)
Reporting from Cairo, David Kirkpatrick reported new facts about the fatal attack on the consulate in Benghazi. Kirkpatrick’s report flies in the face of various claims which have been used as political weapons in the ongoing race for the White House.
What actually happened in the attacks which took the lives of four Americans? Remarkably, Kirkpatrick says the attack probably was an act of retaliation for that tragically stupid anti-Muslim video.
He also seems to reject the idea that al Qaeda was involved. Given the charges flying around, this is significant stuff:
KIRKPATRICK (10/16/12): To Libyans who witnessed the assault and know the attackers, there is little doubt what occurred: a well-known group of local Islamist militants struck without any warning or protest, and they did it in retaliation for the video. That is what the fighters said at the time, speaking emotionally of their anger at the video without mentioning Al Qaeda, Osama bin Laden or the terrorist strikes of 11 years earlier. And it is an explanation that tracks with their history as a local militant group determined to protect Libya from Western influence.Given the poisonous claims which have swirled all about, those are remarkable findings:
“It was the Ansar al-Shariah people,” said Mohamed Bishari, a 20-year-old neighbor who watched the assault and described the brigade he saw leading the attack. “There was no protest or anything of that sort.”
United States intelligence agencies have reserved final judgment pending a full investigation, leaving open the possibility that anger at the video might have provided an opportunity for militants who already harbored anti-American feelings. But so far the intelligence assessments appear to square largely with local accounts.
From his reporting on the ground, Kirkpatrick says this basically wasn’t al Qaeda. He says the attack wasn’t preplanned to coincide with September 11. And he says the attack probably was a reaction to that tragically stupid video.
Kirkpatrick could be wrong, of course. But those findings fly in the face of things which have been widely said.
Those four American are still dead, of course. Why should these conclusions matter? They matter because they fly in the face of reckless charges being made by aggressive political players.
Propagandists have insisted that the attack couldn’t have been about the video—and that it had to be al Qaeda. Beyond that, the Administration just had to be lying when it held back from reaching early conclusions about the motivations and affiliations of the killers.
If Kirkpatrick’s reporting is right, several aggressive Republican charges will turn out to be bogus. We’ll guess that’s why this striking report appeared on page A6, even as the Times filled its front page with several examples of its typically fatuous fare. (For one piece of front-page fiddle, just click this.)
We’d have to guess that a dollop of fear may explain that placement. And doggone it! Kirkpatrick himself may have cowered a bit before his report was done.
Kirkpatrick debunked several treasured GOP claims. By law, he had to say the following, which appeared in our hard-copy Times:
KIRKPATRICK: Other Benghazi militia leaders who know Ansar al-Shariah say it was capable of carrying out the attack by itself with only a few hours’ planning, and as recently as June one of its leaders, Mr. Zahawi, declared that it could destroy the American Consulate. The brigade is described as consisting of 10 leaders, more than 100 armed men and a small arsenal of Kalashnikovs, rocket-propelled grenades and truck-mounted artillery.On-line, that highlighted statement has been cleaned up a bit (see below). But good lord! Who ever made the ridiculous statement described in that highlighted passage?
Witness testimony supported the local narrative.
But in the days after the attack the Obama administration’s surrogates described it as a peaceful protest against the video.
''The line was 'Osama bin Laden has been killed, the war on terror has been won,' so why muddy that?'' argued Peter Feaver, a political scientist at Duke University who advised the Bush administration on the domestic politics of its foreign policy. ''Faced with a range of possibilities, they went with the one that was politically convenient.''
How could an attack which killed four people be “described as a peaceful protest against the video?” Obviously, no one ever said such a thing. And that ridiculous claim by Kirkpatrick led into a strange bit of speculation by Feaver.
In his speculation, Feaver criticizes the Obama Admin—but for what? According to Kirkpatrick, this assault was not an act by al Qaeda. On the other hand, the Administration always said that the attack was conducted by a well-armed group of extremists.
That said, what is Feaver complaining about in that passage? It isn’t entirely easy to tell.
Kirkpatrick let him spout anyway.
If there was no demonstration before the attack, then the administration was wrong to say otherwise. But as we showed yesterday, the administration always said that the fatal attack was conducted by a well-armed group of extremists.
But even in yesterday’s cleaned-up editions, Kirkpatrick jumbles that fact, just as the Washington post did in yesterday’s disgraceful report:
KIRKPATRICK (on-line version): Other Benghazi militia leaders who know Ansar al-Shariah say it was capable of carrying out the attack by itself with only a few hours' planning, and as recently as June one of its leaders, Mr. Zahawi, declared that it could destroy the American Mission. But in the days after the attack the Obama administration's surrogates said it grew out of a peaceful protest against the video.Did surrogates like Susan Rice say the attack “grew out of a peaceful protest against the video?” As with the Washington Post’s hatchet job, that is a very poor paraphrase. Once again, this is what Rice actually said on Meet the Press:
RICE (9/16/12): But putting together the best information that we have available to us today, our current assessment is that what happened in Benghazi was in fact initially a spontaneous reaction to what had just transpired hours before in Cairo, almost a copycat of—of the demonstrations against our facility in Cairo, which were prompted, of course, by the video.As with the Post, so too with the Times. Kirkpatrick makes it sound like Rice said a “peaceful protest” evolved into violence—full stop.
What we think then transpired in Benghazi is that opportunistic extremist elements came to the consulate as this was unfolding. They came with heavy weapons which unfortunately are readily available in post-revolutionary Libya. And it escalated into a much more violent episode. Obviously, that's, that's our best judgment now. We'll await the results of the investigation. And the president has been very clear—we'll work with the Libyan authorities to bring those responsible to justice.
But Rice said something quite different: She said that a heavily-armed, extremist group came to the scene of an ongoing demonstration. She didn’t say that a peaceful protest just spun into something else.
According to Kirkpatrick’s reporting, there was no demonstration before the extremist group arrived. If the Administration believed there was such a demonstration, the Administration may have been wrong. But just like the Washington Post, Kirkpatrick seems to be having a very hard time reporting what Rice actually said.
Or is he describing Rice at all? Slickly, he names no names as he paraphrases what those “surrogates” said.
Kirkpatrick’s reporting seems to suggest that many aggressive Republican charges may turn out to be wrong. So too for the (basically irrelevant) claim that some sort of unrelated demonstration preceded the violent attack. His reporting suggests that the administration showed good sense in withholding judgment about the motives and affiliations of the extremist group Rice described on all those Sunday shows.
But Kirkpatrick, like the disgraceful Post, seems to be having a very hard time telling the world what Rice said.
Did Susan Rice really say that the fatal attack “grew out of a peaceful protest?” That is a very misleading account. For whatever reason, reporters keep defaulting to right-wing scripts as they distort what was said.