On Thursday, Charlie Rose spent the entire commercial-free hour of his PBS show interviewing Obama National Security Advisor Susan Rice, yet never asked her a single question about the 2012 Benghazi attacks or her role in disseminating faulty talking points afterward. In fact, the B-word never escaped Rose’s nor Rice’s lips during the entire show.
There were, however, a few moments when a question about Benghazi would have seemed appropriate. Early in the interview, Rose asked where in the world America’s core interests were under attack at the moment. Rice pointed to the ongoing terrorist threat:
[T]he most direct approximate threat that we face in the foreseeable future comes from extremists, particularly al Qaeda and its various affiliates around the world, that may wish to attack our interests or personnel.
Rice then named a few such al Qaeda affiliates and warned of their intentions:
These small, weaker, regionally-based groups still are dangerous and have aspirations to attack American personnel, American embassies, American facilities, and some even are trying to develop the capacity to potentially attack the homeland.
Groups that have aspirations to attack American embassies and American facilities? That calls to mind Ansar al-Sharia, the terrorist group that attacked the U.S. consulate in Benghazi on September 11, 2012. Rose could have used that comment as a chance to ask Rice about Benghazi, but he didn’t.
A couple of minutes later, Rice brought up terrorist attacks on U.S. embassies in Africa, saying, “We have had, you know, a terrorism concern based in Africa, as you recall, back to 1998 when our embassies in Kenya and Tanzania were bombed.” She didn’t mention the attack on Benghazi, and Rose again failed to ask her about it.
Moments later, Rose asked this laughable question about Islamic terrorists:
What is their threat to us? I mean, do we believe and do we have intelligence that they are trying to somehow launch some kind of attack against the United States or against United States embassies and the like around the world?
Imagine that – terrorists launching some kind of attack against the U.S. or our diplomatic posts throughout the world. It’s not hard to imagine at all – it’s happened many times, including on September 11, 2012 in Benghazi. Rice went on the Sunday shows after that attack and pedaled false administration talking points that downplayed the terrorist threat in that region. Rose should have asked her why she did not seem as concerned about terrorism back then as she did during this interview.
At one point, Rice mentioned Libya and Rose remarked conversationally, “That's not a very good place today, is it?” To which Rice responded, “No, Libya is having a very difficult time today.” Rose asked, “So what's our role to influence Libya?”
Rice went on to talk about U.S. efforts to stabilize Libya since Muammar Gaddafi was ousted from power in 2011. She even spoke of the desire to help Libya “build their security apparatus.” No mention of America’s own diplomatic security apparatus and why it failed on that fateful night in Benghazi. And Rose, despite the proximity of the topic, once again chose not to ask a follow-up about Benghazi.
You have to wonder if Rose had agreed not to mention the B-word before the interview began. If he did, that was a troubling concession to make for the interview. If not, what's troubling is Rose's journalistic malpractice in completely omitting Benghazi altogether.
Below are some highlights from the interview:
CHARLIE ROSE: Let me stop you there. Where is our core interest under attack at this moment?
SUSAN RICE: Nowhere, except through the persistent threat of terrorism, which we see overseas metastasizing. The president talked at length yesterday about the fight against al Qaeda and its affiliates. We don't face a nation-state at this point that poses an imminent direct threat to the United States. There are countries that are rising, that are powerful, that have strong militaries. There are countries that are irresponsible, like North Korea, that could potentially pose a threat but, as you said yesterday, the most direct approximate threat that we face in the foreseeable future comes from extremists, particularly al Qaeda and its various affiliates around the world, that may wish to attack our interests or personnel. But what's changed in the last years, Charlie, is we had previously in Afghanistan and Pakistan al Qaeda core, as we call it, the senior leadership, very strong and very controlling. They have been largely dealt very severe blows and are much weakened from where they were in the past. But what's happened as we have successfully degraded al Qaeda in Afghanistan and Pakistan is that affiliated groups, some loosely affiliated, some really indigenous in their origin, groups like al-Shabaab in Somalia or al Qaeda in the Arabian peninsula, in Yemen, or al Qaeda in the Islamic Magreb, in places like Mali or Boko Haram, which is now affiliated with al Qaeda in Nigeria, which kidnapped those young girls, or now what we see in Syria with the rise of extremist groups in the context of the Syrian civil war. These small, weaker, regionally-based groups still are dangerous and have aspirations to attack American personnel, American embassies, American facilities, and some even are trying to develop the capacity to potentially attack the homeland.
ROSE: Is it fair to say that as you decimated the ranks of the original al Qaeda led by Osama bin Laden and Zawahiri – who we don't know where he is, we assume he’s in Pakistan somewhere, I assume – that these other groups have grown during the years of the Obama administration?
RICE: They’ve evolved and they have become more diffuse. These groups have been around. It is not new that we have a terrorism threat, for example, emanating from the portion of Africa that borders on the Sahara; that's been there since the '90s and beyond. We have had, you know, a terrorism concern based in Africa, as you recall, back to 1998 when our embassies in Kenya and Tanzania were bombed. But what is the case is that where you have weak states, fragile states that aren't able to control all their territory, or where you have conflict zones, such as in Syria, you have the potential and indeed in some instances the reality of extremists filling the void.
ROSE: What is [extremists’] threat to us? I mean, do we believe and do we have intelligence that they are trying to somehow launch some kind of attack against the United States or against United States embassies and the like around the world?
RICE: That would be the definition of a continuing imminent threat. It would be to the United States, whether it’s to our personnel deployed overseas, whether to our embassies or diplomatic facilities or whether to the homeland, all of those constitute threats to the United States.
RICE: This president has been willing to use force to defend our interests. We also used force collectively in the context of international law in Libya to deal with the threat that Gaddhafi posed.
ROSE: That's not a very good place today, is it?
RICE: No, Libya is having a very difficult time today.
ROSE: So what's our role to influence Libya?
RICE: In Libya, frankly, we have tried hard to help a government come to the fore that is legitimate and has staying power. And for a while that was the case and now they've had a series of handovers from one prime minister to another, they have a rebellious congress that is at odds with the government, and we've also tried very hard to help them build their security apparatus because, remember, Gaddafi ran that place for 40 years as a one-man band. There were no ministries that functioned, there were no institutions of the state. So they were starting from scratch with no history or tradition of knowing how to govern and, unfortunately, the various militia in Libya that came to the fore during the revolution have turned on each other, and there are extremists within Libya that have gained some prominence, and they are now being countered by those that are anti-extremists, so it’s a messy situation.