Clinton Emerges, Reasserting Her Diplomatic Stature Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was sidelined in recent weeks by a broken elbow, and some observers say, was eclipsed on the world stage by President Obama. But Clinton has emerged to assert her diplomatic role in a series of recent appearances and an upcoming trip to India and Thailand.
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Clinton Emerges, Reasserting Her Diplomatic Stature

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Clinton Emerges, Reasserting Her Diplomatic Stature

Clinton Emerges, Reasserting Her Diplomatic Stature

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RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. Good morning. I'm Renee Montagne.

STEVE INSKEEP, host:

And I'm Steve Inskeep. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has not made much news lately, partly by accident, partly by design. She's been nursing a broken elbow and had to cancel a couple of foreign trips - including one with President Obama to Russia, Italy and Ghana.

Today, though, the secretary is heading for India and Thailand. NPR's Michele Kelemen looks at how the secretary is fitting into an administration run by her former campaign rival.

MICHELE KELEMEN: The broken elbow and the physical therapy may have been hard on Clinton, but she's trying to make light on her situation, even comparing it to her efforts to repair America's image in the world.

Secretary HILLARY CLINTON (U.S. State Department): No doubt we lost some ground in recent years, but the damage is temporary. It's kind of like my elbow — it's getting better every day.

(Soundbite of laughter)

KELEMEN: Until that speech at the Council on Foreign Relations yesterday, the secretary has kept a rather low profile, nurturing her reputation as a team player and joking with State Department employees that she hasn't been throwing sharp elbows. Her absence from the limelight has kept bloggers and analysts wondering whether it's time for her to elbow her way back in.

Mr. AARON DAVID MILLER (Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars): The question that people are asking, somewhat unfairly perhaps, is where is Hillary?

KELEMEN: That's Aaron David Miller, who advised six secretaries of state on Middle East policy before joining the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars. He says that the president looks more like America's top diplomat these days, or as he puts it, the Energizer Bunny of foreign policy, while Secretary Clinton has handed off crucial issues like the Middle East and Afghanistan to envoys.

Mr. MILLER: So in a way she's sandwiched in the middle between the envoys on the one hand and the president on the other, and that's a model that we haven't seen with respect to American foreign policy for quite a while. It could work, but it really does require her to begin to identify the issues that she wants to master. She needs to put herself in the middle of the mix.

KELEMEN: All of the envoys were on hand to hear Secretary Clinton talk about the administration's foreign policy goals yesterday. She discussed some of the big relationships she's trying to manage. She and Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner are co-hosting a strategic dialogue with China later this month after the secretary's visit to India and Southeast Asia. Clinton says the reality is she has to multitask.

Secretary CLINTON: You know, shortly before I started at the State Department, a former secretary of state called me with this advice: Don't try to do too much. And it seemed like a wise admonition, if only it were possible. But the international agenda today is unforgiving: two wars, conflict in the Middle East, ongoing threats of violent extremism and nuclear proliferation, global recession, climate change, hunger and disease, and a widening gap between the rich and the poor.

KELEMEN: Having lots of envoys is one way she says she likes to do business. And though she hasn't been traveling much with the president, she made clear she's carrying out his priorities.

Ronald Neumann, a retired foreign service officer who now heads the American Academy of Diplomacy, says it's important for her to show that there's no daylight between her and President Obama.

Mr. RONALD NEUMANN (American Academy of Diplomacy): If there is daylight, you're not seeing it. You know, egos are always difficult, but he is the boss and he's the one who got elected, and she seems to be working loyally with him, which is to her credit.

KELEMEN: The only thing close to a disagreement surfaced this week, when Secretary Clinton complained that it's taking too long to fill key jobs because of a vetting process she called frustrating beyond words. Observers say both she and President Obama have supporters they'd like to reward with jobs. Ambassador Neumann wouldn't comment on that, but said this White House is following a long tradition of sending big campaign donors to plum embassy posts.

Mr. NEUMANN: To the extent that one expected something different in Washington — that word change comes up - this is not change. But you know, every political campaign has to pay debts.

KELEMEN: He's still upbeat about Secretary Clinton's State Department, saying she's spending time getting the resources the department needs. That's another issue she emphasized in her speech yesterday as she tries to place diplomacy and development on par with defense.

Michele Kelemen, NPR News, Washington.

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