The Obama administration is doubling down on its theory that the attack a week ago on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi was a “spontaneous” act, despite the Libyan president calling that idea “preposterous.”
The sharply divergent views on what led to the deadly strike in eastern Libya played out across the airwaves Sunday and are sure to generate more questions this week. In two interviews over the weekend, Libyan President Mohammed el-Megarif joined other members of his government in declaring the attack a planned assault, possibly by an Al Qaeda-tied group.
“The idea that this criminal and cowardly act was a spontaneous protest that just spun out of control is completely unfounded and preposterous,” Megarif told NPR.
But U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice, in a string of interviews, stood by the administration’s position that the Libya attack was just part of the wave of protests over the anti-Islam video circulating on the Internet.
“What sparked the violence was a very hateful video on the Internet,” Rice said on “Fox News Sunday.” “It was a reaction to a video that had nothing to do with the United States.”
She also repeated the administration’s message that the attacks, which started Tuesday in Egypt and spread to more the 20 U.S. posts in the region, were “spontaneous,” not planned or timed for the 11th anniversary of the 9/11 terror attacks.
“The best information and the best assessment we have today is that this was not a pre-planned, pre-meditated attack,” Rice also told Fox News. “What happened initially was that it was a spontaneous reaction to what had just transpired in Cairo as a consequence of the video. People gathered outside the embassy and then it grew very violent. And those with extremist ties joined the fray and came with heavy weapons, which unfortunately are quite common in post-revolutionary Libya, and that then spun out of control.”
It was a message that Rice would recite nearly verbatim on the other network shows.
She said the FBI is investigating the attack on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi, Libya, that killed four Americans, including U.S. Ambassador Christopher Stevens, and that more attacks are possible.
Her comments were in sharp contrast to those Sunday of Libyan President Mohammed el-Megarif, who in separate interviews with NPR Radio and CBS’ “Face the Nation” dismissed the notion that the attacks, at least in his country, were spontaneous.
Megarif, president of the Libyan National Congress, also said the violence, including the timing, bears the markings of an Al Qaeda attack.
He said the attacks were carried out by foreigners who have been infiltrating his country since the uprising ended the dictatorship of the late Muammar al-Qaddafi and that they used the Cairo protests as a cover to attack the U.S. Consulate.
In addition, Arizona Sen. John McCain, the ranking Republican on the Senate Committee on Armed Services, and Michigan Rep. Mike Rogers, House Intelligence Committee chairman, said Sunday the administration’s foreign policy of “disengagement” in the Middle East created the vacuum for the attacks.
“The Middle East believes there is a disengagement policy with the U.S.,” Rogers said on “Fox News Sunday.”
The campaign for Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney responded in part to Rice’s efforts within hours.
“Today, the Obama administration found itself facing serious questions about its record of leadership in the world, America’s waning influence abroad, and the failure of its outreach efforts in the Middle East and North Africa,” campaign spokesman Ryan Williams said.