The ongoing state of U.S. intelligence: Do you live in an idiocracy, as Mike Judge once suggested?
Consider one of the dumbest complaints being made against Susan Rice—a criticism which has been made by a succession of major journalists
In her most recent New York Times column, Maureen Dowd presented a scattershot grab-bag of claims against Rice. She used Susan Collins as her beard.
Out of a bog of confusing complaints, the complaint which follows was dumbest by far. Dowd slammed Rice for something she did on the September 16 Face the Nation:
DOWD (11/28/12): When Rice heard the president of the Libyan National Congress tell Bob Schieffer on “Face the Nation,” right before her appearance, that 50 people had been arrested who were either foreign or affiliated with or sympathized with Al Qaeda, why did she push back with the video story? “Why wouldn’t she think what the Libyan president said mattered?” Collins wondered.In fairness, we don’t have the transcript of Collins’ interview with Dowd. It may be that Collins’ full presentation made some sort of sense.
But as presented by Dowd, this particular complaint about Rice is just monumentally stupid. You may live in an idiocracy if:
Such a complaint can be widely advanced, with absolutely no reaction from the public or other journalists.
Rice should have agreed with the Libyan president! She should have done so right on the spot! Sadly, Collins and Dowd weren’t the first to criticize Rice on this ridiculous basis. On November 18, Bob Schieffer pimped the same framework on Face the Nation:
SCHIEFFER (11/18/12): Well, I would point out just one thing. She came on this broadcast immediately after the president of Libya, who said flatly this was the work of terrorists, some of them from Mali, others from outside the country. And Secretary Rice stuck to her—stuck to her story, as it were, and said, “No, our best information is it was a result, a reaction of those demonstrations that were happening in Egypt.”Extending a pre-existing complaint, Schieffer seemed to criticize Rice for “sticking to her story”—presumably, for failing to agree with the things the Libyan president said. Quoting Collins, Dowd advanced the same complaint—a complaint which is so dumb that if virtually defines idiocracy.
I guess what I would ask you, Senator [Durbin], do you honestly believe that, as an ambassador, as one of our key ambassadors to the United Nations, that all Secretary Rice would have known about this is what somebody gave her in a set of talking points to be on television?
First, one basic correction: When Rice appeared on the September 16 Face the Nation, she did not express a view about the motives of the “extremists” who launched the deadly Benghazi attack. She said an initial demonstration at the consulate had been a reaction to the violent protest in Cairo. She didn't say why those extremists armed with heavy weapons came to the scene and hijacked events.
When she appeared on Face the Nation, Rice didn’t say that those extremists were reacting to demonstrations in Egypt. Schieffer may believe that Rice said that. If so, he ought to review his own transcripts—and he might try reading with care just for once.
That said, it’s true that Rice declined to agree with several judgments made by the Libyan president. Appearing just before Rice, Yussef Magariaf told Schieffer that the deadly attack had been preplanned for months. He said the attackers were “affiliated with” al Qaeda “and maybe sympathizers.”
Following Magariaf's interview, Rice appeared on the program. Stating the need for a fuller investigation, she declined to agree with those claims. Here are the statements in question:
SCHIEFFER (9/16/12): But you do not agree with him that this was something that had been plotted out several months ago?According to Collins, this is the passage where Rice revealed that she “didn’t think what the Libyan president said mattered.” According to Dowd, this is the place where Rice "pushed back with the video story."
RICE: We do not— We do not have information at present that leads us to conclude that this was premeditated or preplanned.
SCHIEFFER: Do you agree or disagree with him that al Qaeda had some part in this?
RICE: Well, we’ll have to find out that out. I mean, I think it’s clear that there were extremist elements that joined in and escalated the violence. Whether they were al Qaeda affiliates, whether they were Libyan-based extremists or al Qaeda itself I think is one of the things we’ll have to determine.
In Schieffer’s formulation, that is the passage where Rice “stuck to her story.” Immediately, he suggested that Rice was being less than honest.
Do you live in an idiocracy? On its face, that criticism of Rice is just blindingly stupid. It would have been crazy for Rice to go on TV on September 16 and accept those judgments right there on the spot—to accept judgments which didn’t agree with the state of U.S. intelligence.
In the passage we have posted, Rice presented U.S. intelligence as it existed at the time. Earlier, she had told Schieffer, again and again, that she was giving our best current assessment—that the investigation continued.
More than two months later, Schieffer, Collins and Dowd are criticizing Rice for failing to accept Magariaf’s judgments right there on the spot. But should she have accepted those judgments? Should she have agreed with Magariaf, right there on the spot?
Maybe not so much! Five weeks later, the Washington Post’s Greg Miller provided an update on the state of U.S. intelligence.
And uh-oh! As of October 20, U.S. intelligence still didn’t agree with Magariaf’s claims about the preplanning. As of October 20, U.S. intelligence still agreed with the suggestion advanced that day by Rice.
We’ll include the headline which sat atop Miller’s report:
MILLER (10/20/12): U.S.: Evidence doesn’t show planning in Libyan attackShould Rice have agreed with Magariaf on September 16? Five weeks later, U.S. intelligence was still saying that the attack had not been preplanned—that the attack had developed in reaction to protests about the video.
U.S. intelligence officials said Friday that no evidence has surfaced to indicate that the Sept. 11 assault on a U.S. diplomatic outpost in Libya was planned in advance, a conclusion that suggests the attack was spontaneous even if it involved militants with ties to al-Qaeda.
"There isn't any intelligence that the attackers pre-planned their assault days or weeks in advance," a U.S. intelligence official said. "The bulk of available information supports the early assessment that the attackers launched their assault opportunistically after they learned about the violence at the U.S. Embassy in Cairo."
That emerging consensus among analysts at the CIA and other agencies could lend new support to the Obama administration, which has struggled to fend off Republican allegations that it has been reluctant to admit that the attack in Benghazi was an act of terrorism.
Much of that Republican criticism has focused on U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Susan E. Rice, who appeared on television talk shows days after the attack and attributed it to violent protesters angered by an anti-Muslim YouTube video.
The latest assessment indicates that the timing of the attack in Benghazi was triggered by protests, but also supports subsequent accounts by Obama administration officials describing the siege as a terrorist assault.
U.S. officials have backed away from claims that protesters had gathered around the Benghazi mission before it was overrun. Instead, analysts now think that the siege involved militants who "may have aspired to attack the U.S. in Benghazi," and mobilized after seeing protesters scale the walls of the embassy in Cairo to protest the controversial video.
The violence in Benghazi appears to have involved militants with ties to al-Qaeda in North Africa, but no evidence indicates that it was organized by al-Qaeda, or timed to coincide with the anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks in the United States, officials said.
But so what?
In an idiocracy, facts and logic don't matter! Two days ago, one of the nation’s most famous columnists was still rolling her eyes at the way Rice “pushed back with the video story.” Collins was quoted, dumbly saying that Rice didn’t think Magariaf mattered.
Ten days before that, Schieffer had issued the same absurd complaint. The tired old burnout whined that Rice had “stuck to her story”—a “story” U.S. intelligence was still advancing as of October 20!
When a final report is issued, what judgments will be made about this deadly attack? We can’t tell you that. Nor can we tell you if those judgments will be accurate.
But we started today with a simple question: Do you live in an idiocracy? Over and over, the answer seems clear—and it seems to be yes.
Should Susan Rice have rushed to agree with the Libyan president? Should she have accepted his judgments right there on the spot, even though his judgments didn’t reflect the state of U.S. intelligence?
The very suggestion is dumb beyond dumb—so dumb as to define a new world. You may live in an idiocracy if:
People like Schieffer and Collins and Dowd are marching in lockstep with such complete unvarnished nonsense. And you may live in an idiocracy if:
Other journalists are unable to see how blindingly stupid this is. Or if journalists are simply unwilling to say so, given the influence of halfwits like Schieffer and Dowd.
Do you live in an idiocracy? To review how other journalists—and New York Times readers—have reacted to this absurd criticism of Rice, please see our next post.
You live in a troubling type of world. We think you ought to know what type of world it is.
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