Benghazi, tomorrow and beyond

Hillary Clinton will testify before Trey Gowdy’s Benghazi committee tomorrow. I don’t think anyone on the outside has a good handle on what’s likely to happen, but the conventional wisdom here in Washington is that things will probably go well for Clinton.

This view is based mainly on the sense that Gowdy and his committee have been forced on the defensive by claims that the hearing is politically motivated. As a result, the thinking goes, Republican members will pull some of their punches in order to convince people that they aren’t out to get Hillary.

This may well be how things play out tomorrow. I hope, however, that Gowdy and company are intelligent enough to realize that a lame session will add to, not subtract from, the mainstream media’s disparagement of the committee. I hope they grasp that only by scoring against Hillary can they regain respect, however grudging. The idea that this committee is taking a political swing has been fixed. All that’s left to determine is whether it swings and misses.

Do the Republican members understand this? We’ll see.

But there’s a second reason to suspect that things may go well for Clinton — she’s good at this. Those who followed Whitewater back in the 1990s will know what I’m talking about.

I heard someone say that tomorrow’s hearing isn’t the beginning of the Gowdy committee, but rather the end. If so, we still owe it a debt for uncovering the Clinton email server scandal.

This scandal will outlive the Gowdy committee. Now that Joe Biden has decided not to run for president, the chances of a Clinton indictment seem small, indeed. But the investigation will continue, as will the leaks.

Coming off a good debate performance, a favorable decision by Biden, and (let’s suppose) a strong showing tomorrow, Clinton should get a nice boost this month. But the drip-drip of the email scandal will likely pull her back as the months roll on. And with the FBI apparently likely to recover Hillary’s deleted emails, a bombshell may yet explode.

What about the underlying Benghazi issue and the broader question of Hillary’s Libya policy? Here, it won’t be as easy to make additional headway once the Gowdy committee winds down, and a strong performance by Hillary may undo some of the headway previously made on the Benghazi-specific side of things.

But the issue need not go away. Once the Republicans have a nominee, it will be his or her job to hammer Hillary on Benghazi. Donald Trump, for one, would be up to the task.

Whatever happens tomorrow, there will be plenty to work with. For example, Robert Gates is saying that Hillary’s plan for dealing with a post-Qaddafi Libya was “to play it by ear.”

Moreover, Clinton was anything but sharp on Libya during the Democratic debate. She characterized the decision to intervene as “the right decision at the time,” and pointed to a free election held after Gadaffi’s fall as evidence that it was a success.

In a quality debate, this argument would have been laughed off the stage. By Clinton’s definition of success, President Bush’s invasion of Iraq was a success even pre-surge — a proposition she would never endorse.

Clinton went on to blame post-intervention problems in Libya on the “Arab Spring” and “a lot of other things.” I don’t know about those “other things,” but the Arab spring predated our military action in Libya; it was not an unforeseen intervening circumstance.

Clinton should have known the Arab Spring, which helped prompt the rebellion against Qaddafi in the first place, would have a significant bearing on a post-Qaddifi Libya. And she certainly should have had a better plan than “playing it by ear.”

Back to tomorrow’s hearing, I’m hoping we’ll see fireworks. But if not, don’t conclude that Hillary Clinton is out of the woods.