By Aamer Madhani, USA TODAY
WASHINGTON - As Hillary Rodham Clinton bids farewell to the State Department Friday, she steps down from her post somewhat circumspect about what the future may hold for her - but with a fairly detailed critique of her time in the Obama administration and what the future holds for U.S. diplomacy.
In farewell remarks Thursday before the Council on Foreign Relations, Clinton used her final public address as secretary of State to offer a robust defense of her four years as the nation's chief diplomat.
"Remember what we faced in January 2009: two wars, an economy in free fall, traditional alliances fraying, our diplomatic standing damaged," Clinton said. "And around the world, people questioning Americans' commitment to core values and our ability to maintain our global leadership."
Clinton leaves her post after a turbulent four years for American foreign policy. Terrorist leader Osama bin Laden was killed, the war in Iraq was ended and the U.S. ambassador to Libya became the first chief envoy to be killed in the line of duty in more than 30 years.
Even as she chronicled U.S. foreign policy successes during her tenure, Clinton said the United States needs to build "smart power" in a world where the levers of influence are changing rapidly.
"We need a new architecture for a new world - more Frank Gehry than formal Greek," Clinton said, referring to the modern architect known for complex, multifacted building designs. "Now some of his work at first might appear haphazard, but in fact, it's highly intentional and sophisticated. Where once a few strong columns could hold up the weight of the world, today we need a dynamic mix of materials and structures."
She reflected that while the world has become smaller as the result of advances in technology, most notably the Internet, it has also required diplomats to be more personally engaged. In four years on the job, she logged more than 950,000 air miles and visited 112 countries, including, she noted, being the first secretary of State to visit the small West African nation of Togo, which currently holds a rotating seat on the United Nations Security Council.
"In today's world, when we can be anywhere virtually, more than ever, people want us to actually show up," Clinton said.
Clinton, who has written one memoir, says she plans to pen a second and spend time with her daughter, Chelsea, and husband, former president Bill Clinton.
The outgoing secretary of State insists she hasn't given serious thought to making a second run for the White House, and even went so far to say during a forum this week that she was "not inclined" to take a shot in 2016.
John Kerry, whose nomination to be the next secretary of State was confirmed by the Senate on Tuesday, will be sworn in to office Friday and takes over as the Obama administration faces several hot button issues on the international stage, including:
- Civil conflict in Syria has left more than 60,000 dead and rages on.
- Obama must decide whether to leave a residual troop presence in Afghanistan beyond 2014.
- Al-Qaeda-linked groups in Africa are a growing threat.
Richard Haass, president of the Council on Foreign Relations, joked Thursday, "John Kerry has some fairly large Manolo Blahniks to fill."