Friday, Oct. 5, 2012 | 2 a.m.
A woman named Rice in a top administration job, ambitious to move up to secretary of state, hitting the Sunday talk shows to aggressively promote a Middle East narrative that’s good for the president but destined to crumble under scrutiny.
Accusations that intelligence on al-Qaida links in the Middle East was cherry-picked by American officials to create a convenient reality.
A national security apparatus that becomes enmeshed with the political image-making machine.
Last time, it was Condoleezza Rice helping her war-obsessed bosses spin their deceptive web as they recklessly tried to re-engineer the Middle East. This time, it was Susan Rice offering a noncredible yarn as the Obama team desperately tries to figure out the Middle East.
W.’s administration played up al-Qaida ties, exploiting 9/11 to invade Iraq, which the neocons had wanted to do all along. The Obama administration sidestepped al-Qaida ties in the case of the Libyan attack to perpetuate the narrative that the president had decimated al-Qaida when Osama bin Laden was killed and to preclude allegations that they were asleep at the switch on the anniversary of 9/11. Better to blame it all on a spontaneous protest to an anti-Islam video on YouTube.
It’s remarkable that President Barack Obama, who came to power abhorring the manipulative and duplicitous tactics of the Bush crowd, should now be vulnerable to similar charges.
You know you’re in trouble when Donald Rumsfeld is the voice of reason. “The idea of sending a United Nations ambassador for the United States out to market and peddle and spin a story that has, within a matter of hours, demonstrated to be not accurate, I think is inexcusable,” the former defense secretary told Fox News on Tuesday. “I can’t imagine.”
His imagination fails him even though he, his pal Dick Cheney and his ward W. sent then-Secretary of State Colin Powell to the U.N. to market a story that fell apart one invasion later. Rumsfeld said that if the Obama administration’s critics are right, that perhaps officials were “bureaucratic and unwilling to respond promptly to a threat report.” Like when W. was unwilling to respond promptly to that threat report screaming “Bin Laden Determined to Strike in U.S.”?
There was something off-kilter about the tragic saga of J. Christopher Stevens from the beginning. Even for a highly regarded ambassador with a dash of Lawrence of Arabia’s empathy and mistaken sense of invulnerability, Stevens was obviously too lightly guarded in a region roiling with threats and hatred; he was in a susceptible complex without enough armed security and basic emergency equipment. Even afterward, the place was so unprotected that a CNN staffer could walk in and pick up Stevens’ private diary, which reflected the ambassador’s fear about never-ending attacks and being on an al-Qaida hit list.
There were, after all, al-Qaida sympathizers among the rebels who overthrew Moammar Gadhafi with U.S. help.
House Republicans will hold a hearing next week and have asked Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to explain why the consulate was not better defended given, as Rep. Darrell Issa noted in a letter, the “long line of attacks on Western diplomats and officials in Libya in the months leading up to September 11, 2012.”
Susan Rice’s tumble is part of a disturbing pattern of rushing to pump up the president on national security, which seems particularly stupid because it’s so unnecessary.
Last year, the White House had to backtrack from the overwrought initial contentions of John Brennan, the national security aide, who said that bin Laden died after resisting in a firefight and that he was “hiding behind women who were put in front of him as a shield.”
Now that one of the members of the Navy SEAL team, Matt Bissonette, has written a book, there are contradictory accounts, one by a Democratic White House dying to sound tough, and one by an eyewitness. Bissonette wrote that the lead commando shot an unarmed bin Laden in the head when he peered out of his bedroom door and they shot his convulsing body again inside the bedroom. In the administration’s version, the shot in the stairwell missed.
Just so, in an overzealous effort to burnish a president who did not need burnishing — especially against foreign policy bumbler Mitt Romney and foreign policy novice Paul Ryan — they have gotten tangled in contradictory accounts about Benghazi. The administration had benefited from the impression that it had diminished al-Qaida, even though the public no doubt appreciates that it was never going to be so simple. But, as Romney learned when he prematurely rushed to the microphone to take advantage of the crisis and mangled his facts, there is a cost to letting the political spin cycle dictate how you discuss national security.
The U.S. military is preparing to retaliate for the Libyan attack. But, even if J. Christopher Stevens is avenged, will the president get the credit he deserves if his acolytes have left the impression that they’re willing to rewrite the story for political advantage?
Maureen Dowd is a columnist for The New York Times.