Hillary Clinton Takes a Rest, How Weird is That?
Clinton seems not to have made up her mind on a presidential run, although she insists, seemingly less strenuously than before, that she is through with the high-wire of politics. Certainly many of her supporters, who just days ago launched a super PAC to support another presidential run, want her to go for it.
At a September meeting in New York, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu asked her: "What are you going to do?" It was an apparent reference to her post-secretary plans. Clinton shook her head and said, "I don’t know."
Asked on the eve of her departure from the State Department if she still had contributions to make, she replied "Absolutely," but stressed that the how and when were not yet clear.
"I haven’t decided yet," she told the AP. "I really haven’t yet. I have deliberately cabined it off. I am going to be secretary of state until the very last minute when I walk out the door. And then I am going to take the weekend off and then I may start thinking about all the various offers and requests and ideas that have come my way."
In the final months of her tenure as secretary of state, Clinton helped secure a cease-fire between Israel and the Palestinian militant group Hamas in the Gaza Strip and ordered a series of changes in the operations of her department in response to the Benghazi attack.
She also has remained committed to core interests such as women and children in developing economies and civil society in repressive countries - issues she has tried to elevate to an equal diplomatic footing with peace processes and trade talks.
THE BILL SHADOW
It was not always an easy path. Early on as secretary, amid talk that she was losing influence within the administration, Clinton embarked on a lengthy trip to Africa to highlight those issues, only to be upstaged by the arrival of her husband and his entourage in North Korea to free two American journalists.
Despite a historic visit to war-ravaged Goma in the Democratic Republic of Congo, the seven-nation, 11-day tour of the continent is best remembered for her testy exchange with a student in Kinshasa who asked what Bill Clinton thought about Chinese influence in Africa. "You want me to tell you what my husband thinks?" she asked. "My husband is not the secretary of state. I am. So, you ask my opinion, I will tell you my opinion. I’m not going to be channeling my husband."
In one early embarrassment, she presented a Russian official with a button that was supposed to say "reset," conveying the Obama administration’s wish to mend ties with the Kremlin. The button had been erroneously translated into Russian and read "overcharged."
Melanne Verveer, a longtime Clinton confidante who became the first U.S. ambassador at-large for women’s issues, once said her friend had an "absolute tin ear for foreign languages." But Clinton has long realized the value of listening, in any language, and made it a point to hear out longwinded comments, not just from leaders but ordinary people, in her travels. Clinton held nearly 60 town hall-style events abroad while she was secretary, taking questions on topics ranging from her hairstyle and marriage to drone strikes in Pakistan.
VOICE OF HER OWN
And, she has not been shy in speaking her mind.
At an event in Pakistan in 2009, Clinton said she found it hard to believe that no one in the Pakistani government knew where Osama bin Laden was, prompting an outcry. Again, in Pakistan Clinton defended deeply unpopular drone strikes against militant targets.
On her first trip abroad as secretary of state, Clinton raised eyebrows by saying that differences over human rights could not hold the entire U.S.-Chinese relationship hostage. This upset human rights activists, who had been sympathetic to her presidential bid.
Clinton stuck to her guns, though, and three years later, she was able to negotiate the release of the blind Chinese lawyer who had taken refuge at the U.S. Embassy in Beijing, while re-opening a human rights dialogue with Beijing.
It was one of her biggest diplomatic triumphs, alongside her historic trip to Myanmar. With signs of the long-repressive regime opening, Clinton in December 2011 became the first secretary of state in 56 years to visit the country, urging it along its reform path and sitting down with the long-imprisoned opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi.
She traveled to every country in Southeast Asia in the end, strengthening ties with old enemies from the Vietnam War and showing China that it wouldn’t be able to steamroll its smaller neighbors in maritime and other disputes without also facing U.S. resistance.
Successes also included a tenuous oil deal between Sudan and South Sudan, persuading China and others to implement crippling oil sanctions against Iran and elevating gay rights - much like she did with women’s rights in the 1990s - to a new level of global credibility.
Yet Clinton leaves with many international crises unresolved, such as Syria’s civil war and Egypt’s democratic future. The U.S.-Israel alliance is on shaky ground, terrorism is on the rise in North Africa, there’s an unclear endgame to the Afghanistan war and Israelis and Palestinians are no closer to a two-state peace solution than they were four years ago. And, despite endless warnings, Iran’s nuclear program has moved closer to weapons capacity.
In all, Clinton spent 401 days on overseas travel and almost three months in the air.
Oftentimes she made a splash in the world without even trying.
In Italy, an impromptu 2011 shopping expedition to the Salvatore Ferragamo store with her aide de camp, Huma Abedin, caused a major traffic tie up in central Rome. A visit to ancient ruins at Cambodia’s famed Angkor Wat temple complex turned the heads of hundreds of other tourists.
Photos of her drinking a beer at a bar in Colombia made newspaper front pages. A video of her dancing at a dinner in South Africa became a hit online as did the "Texts from Hillary" meme, featuring a photo of a stern-looking Clinton peering through sunglasses at her Blackberry while aboard a military plane en route to Libya.
A village in India is named for her. In 2010 in Kosovo, Clinton’s motorcade made an impromptu stop at a store called "Hillary" just a stone’s throw from a statue of her husband on the main road from the airport to the capital of Pristina. She happily posed for pictures there with her entourage.
She dealt confidently with the first major hiccup of her watch, the release of hundreds of thousands of classified State Department cables by WikiLeaks, which caused deep embarrassment as it laid bare confidential and often harsh assessments of foreign leaders by U.S. diplomats around the world and put at least several informants at risk.
Aside from her recent health scare, Clinton has not been immune from personal tragedy while serving as top diplomat.
One of her foreign policy mentors, the diplomat Richard Holbrooke, whom Clinton tapped to run Afghanistan and Pakistan policy, died in December 2010 after suffering a ruptured aorta during a meeting in her office. Less than a year later, Clinton’s mother, Dorothy Rodham, died at the age of 92.
And, Clinton’s own painful memories of marital discord were rekindled in the summer of 2011 when Abedin’s husband, former Rep. Anthony Weiner, D-N.Y., was forced to resign from Congress after a sexting scandal.
Yet, her four years as secretary of state also yielded personal triumphs. From her daughter’s wedding in July 2010 to her emotional get-together with Suu Kyi in Yangon and separate meetings with ailing South African icon Nelson Mandela, a personal idol, Clinton rode the crest of a wave of popularity she had not seen in her public career before.
"Get into the arena, stand up for what you believe and put together the arguments that can win the day," she told the AP as she prepared to leave office, imparting advice to anyone who might be considering a career in politics.
"I am making no decisions, but I would never give that advice to someone that I wouldn’t take myself, she said. "If you believe you can make a difference, not just in politics, in public service, in advocacy around all these important issues, then you have to be prepared to accept that you are not going to get 100 percent approval."