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Friday, December 28, 2012 - 11:15am

Assessing Hillary Clinton's Legacy

Updated: 1 year ago.
Hillary Clinton, shown here boarding a plane in Prague earlier this month, is preparing to step aside soon as secretary of state. She hasn't said what she plans to do next.

Hillary Clinton is preparing to leave the Obama administration after four years as secretary of state, earning generally high marks and fueling all kinds of speculation about what she wants to do next.

Her boss, President Obama, has paid tribute to her, calling her "tireless and extraordinary," though illness and a concussion have kept her out of public view for the past two weeks.

"More than 400 travel days, nearly 1 million miles," President Obama proclaimed at a diplomatic reception recently. "These are not frequent flier miles. She doesn't get discounts."

Obama calls Clinton one of the best secretaries of state in U.S. history, saying she restored America's credibility in the world and reached out to ordinary people in the far reaches of the globe. Her aides pack her travel schedules with town halls and meetings with civil society groups.

But that "people-to-people diplomacy" doesn't impress Fouad Ajami of Stanford's Hoover Institution.

"She thought that secretary of state is becoming a global icon," Ajami says, arguing that she has little to show for all her travels. Staining her record, Ajami says, is Syria. He says Clinton "covered" for President Obama's inaction there.

"[President Obama] didn't want to do anything about Syria, and mission accomplished, because he gave her that portfolio," Ajami says.

Limited Room To Maneuver

Part of the problem, he says, is that foreign policy is being made in the White House, not at the State Department.

Aaron David Miller, vice president of the of the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, describes Obama as the "withholder-in-chief" and says Clinton didn't have much room to maneuver.

"She has pursued an agenda, which has been highly constrained by both the kind of cruel and unforgiving foreign policy world out there and by the president's own determination to withhold, in my view, the most consequential issues related to national security, war, peace, big-think strategy," Miller says.

What was left, he says, is an agenda that Clinton shaped, one Miller describes as "planetary humanism." That includes women's issues, the environment, press and Internet freedom, and social media.

"And those issues, which may be 21st century, cutting-edge issues aren't terribly risky," Miller adds.

They are also issues that have domestic constituencies if Clinton decides to run for president in 2016.

"She has generated enormous momentum for American foreign policy," which should not go to waste, says Vali Nasr, dean of the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies.

Nasr credits Clinton with restoring America's image and doing "triage" on key issues. He says Clinton brought relations with Pakistan back from the brink of disaster and made history by visiting Myanmar, also known as Burma.

Clinton also played a key role in the international action in Libya. So far, she has avoided much of the criticism over the attack in Benghazi that killed the U.S. ambassador and three other Americans in September.

"She will be leaving this job, in my view, with almost no asterisks and that, it seems to me, in this day and age, is a real accomplishment," Miller says.

Copyright 2012 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

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