Former Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice has refused to politicize an assault on the U.S. mission in Benghazi, Libya, last month, or point the finger at the Obama administration, saying in a “fog of war” it is hard to know exactly what is happening as it is unfolding.
In an interview with Fox News’ Greta Van Susteren on Wednesday, Rice somewhat stomped out the flame ignited by recent reports that the White House and State Department were aware of the Benghazi attack two hours after it happened on Sept. 11.
Rather, in a move that is markedly different from the actions of some in the Republican Party, Rice said the emails show that America’s diplomats are serving in some very dangerous places around the world.
Four Americans, including Ambassador Chris Stevens, were killed when terrorist believed to be affiliated with al Qaeda attacked the consulate last month.
“You can’t simply keep your diplomats in a bunker,” Rice said. “They have to get out and do their work. But you want to make certain you are taking the right safety precautions for them as well and that’s the kind of work the accountability review board will do. But there are protocols in place. I have no reason to believe that they weren’t followed. It is not very easy in circumstances like this to know precisely what’s going on as it’s unfolding.”
Rice served as Secretary of State under President George W. Bush. She said in situation like Benghazi, an operation center will notify the State Department of the trouble at the location. The operation center will try to understand what’s happening on the ground as well. An incident of this magnitude would get to the highest level of authority, she said.
“But when things are unfolding very, very quickly, it’s not always easy to know what is really going on on the ground,” Rice told Van Susteren. “And to my mind, the really important questions here are about how information was collected. Did the various agencies really coordinate and share intelligence in the way that we had hoped, with the reforms that were made after 9/11?
“So there’s a big picture to be examined here,” she added. “But we don’t have all of the pieces, and I think it’s easy to try and jump to conclusions about what might have happened here. It’s probably better to let the relevant bodies do their work.”
Republican Presidential nominee Mitt Romney and some other party-aligned critics of President Barack Obama have accused the administration of a coverup. Romney also accused Obama of failing to call the Libya incident a terrorist attack until 14 days after the fact, a claim which has been debunked: Obama did mention that the Benghazi attack was an act of terrorism the day after it took place. He also said those responsible will be brought to justice. An investigation into the assault has been ordered by the administration.
Rice, who supports Romney, said the question on her mind now is whether certain changes implemented following the terror attacks of 2001 are working as they should.
“I want to emphasize that one of the problems we had in 9/11 – and that we sought to fix – was the coordination between all of the various agencies that would be reporting on this.”
That includes agencies in Washington and on the ground in the various trouble spots.
“We worked very hard to make sure that all of this was shared, put together in a way that policy makers can use it,” Rice said.