No one expects any bombshell revelations about Benghazi when Secretary of State Hillary Clinton testifies in Congress on Wednesday about the Sept. 11, 2012, attack that claimed the lives of four Americans, including U.S. Ambassador to Libya Chris Stevens. But Republicans are sure to link that terrorist strike to bloody conflicts across North Africa and in Syria to hammer President Barack Obama’s handling of the war on terrorism.
“They were spiking the ball on al-Qaida throughout the course of this entire campaign,” Republican Sen. Bob Corker of Tennessee, slated to become his party’s senior member on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, told Fox News on Tuesday.
Recent events—including a deadly hostage crisis in Algeria and France’s military intervention in Mali to battle al-Qaida-linked Islamist fighters there—raise the “big question of how this administration is dealing with extremists and militants,” Corker said.
(Obama’s inaugural address on Monday went long on priorities like advancing gay rights, battling climate change and overhauling the nation’s immigration laws. He made no mention of terrorism and did not name al-Qaida. But he frequently contended on the campaign trail that Osama bin Laden’s organization had been “decimated” and was “on the run.” Aides say “core” al-Qaida has suffered heavy losses and that Obama’s aggressive expansion of America’s drone war in places like Yemen shows he’s mindful of the rise of dangerous offshoots.)
Clinton, in one of her final acts as America’s top diplomat, will go before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee at 9 a.m. and the House Foreign Affairs Committee at 2 p.m.
She had been expected to testify in December, but suffered a concussion in a fall at her home while recovering from a stomach bug, then needed treatment for a blood clot near her brain. She had taken questions from lawmakers on the issue once before, but Republicans complained that she had not shared much information.
“I think she’s been forthcoming, I do,” Corker said. “I just don’t think it has been extensive up until this time. Because of the injury she sustained from a fall at her home, we’ve only had undersecretaries there.”
The senator added, “I really don’t expect any bombshells” on Wednesday. Still, he said, “this is the beginning, really” of a process that should see a “top-to-bottom review” of the State Department’s process of handling security concerns at its overseas posts.
“It’s almost full of sclerosis and unable to really attend to the issues of security and make decisions that need to be made in this regard,” Corker said.
Clinton will appear one day before Democratic Sen. John Kerry goes before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee he used to chair for a confirmation hearing to succeed her as secretary of state. Democratic Sen. Robert Menendez, Kerry’s successor, will lead both hearings.
Republican Sen. John McCain, who has frequently assailed the administration over the attack on the consulate in Benghazi and who recently joined the committee, will join in the questioning of Clinton and Kerry. Earlier this month, McCain released a list of questions that he planned to ask regarding Benghazi.
The Sept. 11 attack raised new questions about Obama’s handling of the “Arab Spring” uprisings that toppled authoritarian regimes in places like Egypt and Libya. It also triggered a months-long battle over how the administration handled repeated requests from Stevens for more security and then explained the tragedy to the American public.
Most notably, U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice withdrew her name from consideration to be Clinton’s successor in the face of Republican opposition. Rice went on major Sunday news shows one week after the attack in Benghazi and, relying on administration-approved talking points, described it as emerging from a protest against an Internet video that ridicules Islam. There was no such demonstration.
Some of the anger has fizzled, sapped by contentious congressional hearings and a scathing report commissioned by Clinton that faulted the State Department for its handling of repeated requests from Stevens for more security. That report also refuted media reports that the administration chose not to send in troops who might have been able to save Stevens and his colleagues.
But Clinton is sure to face tough questions about the security failures in Benghazi, notably in the face of warnings from Stevens and others that Islamists were increasingly active in Libya. She will also likely be asked about the administration’s changing public explanation of what happened.
“It is important to learn all we can about what happened in Benghazi because at the end of the day, it could happen again. After all, al-Qaida and associated groups plan to attack over and over again, as we saw most recently in Algeria,” House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Ed Royce, R-Calif., said last week.
“My intention is for this hearing to focus on why this attack was not better anticipated, what leadership failures at the State Department existed, and what management deficiencies need to be corrected in order to better secure our diplomatic facilities abroad and protect our diplomats serving in them,” Royce said.
Obama initially connected the attack with the Sept. 11, 2001, strikes rhetorically as “acts of terror,” but the administration went on to link it to popular Muslim anger over an Internet video ridiculing Islam. Republicans accused the administration of misleading the public by playing down intelligence that it was a terrorist attack. The White House flatly denies deliberately misleading the public.