Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-SC) appeared on Morning Joe today to discuss the aims and the scope of the newly minted House Select Committee on Benghazi, which he will chair. Democrats already have accused Gowdy and Republicans of using the investigation into the deaths of four Americans, including the first US ambassador killed in the line of duty in over 30 years, as a platform to attack Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton all the way through the 2016 election cycle. Gowdy told the MJ panel that the White House will end up dictating the pace of the probe:

Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-S.C.) said the special committee he’ll lead on Benghazi could continue into the 2016 campaign, when Hillary Clinton might be running for the White House.

Asked about that possibility Wednesday on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe,” Gowdy said the length of his work would depend on the administration’s level of cooperation.

“It would be shame on us if we intentionally dragged this out for political expediency,” said Gowdy, the special committee’s chairman. “On the other hand, if an administration is slow-walking document production I can’t end a trial simply because the defense won’t cooperate.”

The story could have been over already, for that matter, had the Obama administration not hidden documents from Congress until now. Based on their track record, no one knows how many other documents they may be hiding, or redacting into oblivion either. That’s why Gowdy wants to close out the other Congressional investigations and start from scratch, collect all of the evidence and re-do the depositions, in order to conduct a comprehensive investigation with plenary power. That can go short and easy, or it can go long and hard, but that choice ultimately rests with the White House.

Gowdy made it clear during the interview that the scope of this committee won’t be limited to just the post-attack politicization of the event. He wants answers on the denials for security at the facility, and the reasons why the US stayed in Benghazi while every other Western agency pulled out as terrorist escalated. In my column for The Week, I urge Republicans to take that broader focus, which is where true accountability will be found:

Last week, retired Air Force General Robert Lovell testified before Congress that the U.S. military should have responded immediately to the attack. As the commander of intelligence services for AFRICOM at the time of the attack, Lovell testified that no one seriously thought that it was anything other than a deliberate, planned offensive on the diplomatic post left vulnerable despite ever-increasing warnings about terrorist activity in and around Benghazi, especially with al Qaeda affiliates. The testimony raises the question — again — as to why the U.S. military was not prepared to respond to a terrorist attack in the AFRICOM area of responsibility on the anniversary of 9/11, especially in an area known to have rapidly escalating enemy activity.

That question becomes more acute as the situation in Libya continues to deteriorate. The Daily Beast‘s national security correspondent Eli Lake reports that the region has now been flooded with radical Islamist terrorists from around the world, eager to operate within the failed state of Libya the NATO intervention created. One counter-terrorism contractor calls it “Scumbag Woodstock,” while another intelligence official calls eastern Libya “a jihadist melting pot.” The situation presents a threat to the region and to the U.S. far beyond what existed three years ago, before Obama intervened on behalf of the rebels.

The select committee should focus on that larger context of Benghazi, the editorial board of The Washington Post urged this week, asking Republicans to eschew the cover-up for the “actual failings in Libya” from Obama and his administration.

“The Obama administration and its NATO allies bear responsibility for this mess because, having intervened to help rebels overthrow Gadhafi, they then swiftly exited without making a serious effort to help Libyans establish security and build a new political order,” they wrote. “Congress might usefully probe why the administration allowed a country in which it initiated military operations to slide into chaos.”

Indeed. While the White House continues its ridiculous spin and accusations, Gowdy and Boehner have an opportunity to present accountability on a much broader and deeper level — the very accountability the Obama administration tried to avoid with its initial talking points.