Maureen Dowd's Attack On Susan Rice Is Missing All The Facts

Maureen Dowd

New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd defied her own paper's reporting to hype false Republican attacks on Ambassador Susan Rice.

Dowd devoted much of her November 27 column to quoting questions Republican Sen. Susan Collins (ME) had for Rice -- who currently serves as U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, and is rumored to be a possible nominee to become the next secretary of state -- regarding statements Rice made during September appearances on Sunday political shows about the attack on U.S. facilities in Benghazi, Libya. But the questions Dowd posed have already been answered by Times reporting, and those answers show that Rice is being unfairly attacked.

This is the second time that Dowd has defied her own paper's reporting to attack Rice.

Dowd wrote that Collins “wants to know Rice's basis for saying on ABC that the attacks were 'a direct result of a heinous and offensive video' ” -- a reference to an anti-Islam video that sparked unrest across the Muslim world. In fact, the Times has repeatedly reported that the Benghazi attackers cited the video as motivation for their attack. In an October 15 article, the Times reported:

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 the United States Mission 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 members of a local militant group determined to protect Libya from Western influence.

The Times similarly reported on November 27 that "[w]itnesses to the assault said it was carried out by members of the Ansar al-Shariah militant group, without any warning or protest, in retaliation for an American-made video mocking the Prophet Muhammad."

Dowd also wrote that Collins wants to know how Rice could promote the story about the video “with such certitude.” Dowd also reported that Collins said Rice's story was “at odds with the classified information to which the ambassador had access,” and Dowd added in her own voice that the story was “also at odds with common sense”:

Collins drew up a list of questions to ask Rice at their one-on-one hourlong meeting slated for Wednesday. She wants Rice to explain how she could promote a story “with such certitude” about a spontaneous demonstration over the anti-Muslim video that was so at odds with the classified information to which the ambassador had access. (It was also at odds with common sense, given that there were Al Qaeda sympathizers among the rebel army members that overthrew Muammar el-Qaddafi with help from the U.S. -- an intervention advocated by Rice -- and Islamic extremist training camps in the Benghazi area.)

But Rice did not say with certitude that the Benghazi attack began as a spontaneous demonstration. Rice appeared on Sunday talk shows on September 16 to talk about Benghazi and repeatedly said that initial intelligence reports indicated that the attacks began as a spontaneous response to an anti-Islam video, that the FBI was conducting an investigation, and that they would “wait to see the results of that investigation to draw any definitive conclusions.”

Furthermore, the Times itself has reported that Rice has explained why she said that the attack began as a spontaneous protest gone awry: That assessment was based on the intelligence available at the time, which changed thereafter. From a November 27 Times article about meetings Rice had with several senators that day:

In a statement after the meeting, Ms. Rice said she incorrectly described the attack in Benghazi, which killed Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens and three other Americans, as a spontaneous protest gone awry rather than a premeditated terrorist attack. But she said she based her remarks on the intelligence then available -- intelligence that changed over time.

Dowd also reported that Collins is concerned that Rice said on Sunday shows that two ex-Navy SEALs who died in Benghazi “were there providing security” when in fact, they weren't in Benghazi to protect Ambassador Chris Stevens, who also died in the attack:

Why did Rice say on ABC News's “This Week,” that “two of the four Americans who were killed were there providing security”? Rice was referring to the two ex-Navy SEAL team members who were C.I.A. security officers working on a base about a mile away. “They weren't there to protect Ambassador Stevens,” Collins said. “That wasn't their job.”

But the Times has reported that the CIA operatives did provide security for State Department officials after the attack began in Benghazi. From a November 1 Times article:

Security officers from the C.I.A. played a pivotal role in combating militants who attacked the American diplomatic mission in Benghazi, Libya, on Sept. 11, deploying a rescue party from a secret base in the city, sending reinforcements from Tripoli, and organizing an armed Libyan military convoy to escort the surviving Americans to hastily chartered planes that whisked them out of the country, senior intelligence officials said Thursday.


Within 25 minutes of being alerted to the attack against the diplomatic mission, half a dozen C.I.A. officers raced there from their base about a mile away, enlisting the help of a handful of Libyan militia fighters as they went. Arriving at the mission about 25 minutes after that, the C.I.A. officers joined State Department security agents in a futile search through heavy smoke and enemy fire for Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens before evacuating the mission's personnel to the apparent safety of their base, which American officials have called an annex to the mission. Mr. Stevens was one of four Americans killed in the attack.