Clinton: Here She Comes, There She Goes

Secretary of State-designate Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, D-N.Y., listens Jan. 13, 2009, on Capitol Hill in Washington, during her confirmation hearing before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing on her nomination. The Senate confirmed Hillary Clinton to become secretary of state. AP Photo/Gerald Herbert

Background and analysis by CBS News State Department reporter Charles Wolfson.

Three weeks into her new role as America's chief diplomat, Hillary Clinton has burrowed in at the State Department's Foggy Bottom headquarters. There are reports of her cruising the hallways and dropping in on people to talk about what they're doing but it has been mostly a mix of briefings, meetings and policy reviews taking place out of the public eye.

Of course there have been a smattering of photo-ops with visiting foreign ministers and other dignitaries, sometimes with a chance for reporters to ask Clinton about the news of the day or the administration's policy on one subject or another.

Clinton held big, public ceremonies to announce the appointments of special envoy George Mitchell for the Middle East peace process and Todd Stern for Climate Change negotiations as well as Richard Holbrooke as special representative for Afghanistan-Pakistan. Mitchell and Holbrooke have already gone off to conduct listening tours.

In her first few days on the job, Secretary Clinton made over two dozen phone calls to foreign leaders, many of whom she knew already. After that she began to receive a steady stream of visitors from abroad including the foreign ministers of the United Kingdom, Germany, France and the Czech Republic. The Presidents of Haiti and the Philippines stopped by as did the Prime Minister of Albania, all standard fare for the next four years.

There have also been breakfast or lunch meetings with senior members of Congress not to mention weekly get-togethers with her boss, President Barack Obama, and Vice President Joe Biden. It is all part of what Clinton stresses really is a team effort in national security policy.

Not wanting to neglect the people she'll be relying on most, Clinton also went to US AID headquarters a few blocks from the State Department to give a pep talk to those in charge of handing out development assistance to those in need around the world.

Back in her own shop the boss held her first Town Hall meeting. A standing room only crowd in the Dean Acheson auditorium paid close attention as Clinton outlined her general views on moving the department ahead in tough budgetary times. They applauded knowingly when she told them she'd already heard more complaints about food in the cafeteria (which is actually ranked quite high among government cafeterias in town) "than any of these crises which fill the headlines." And she got a big round of laughter and applause when answering one question about using science as a tool for public diplomacy by saying she had spoken about the subject as a senator and in her recent campaign: "You know (pause) I ran for President at some point," she said, and as the applause faded, added "And so, you know- I sometimes totally forget that. You know it's like a blur, it went by so fast." So much for the lighter moments on the job.

With all the major policy areas---Iraq, Afghanistan, Middle East peace process, Iran and North Korea among others--- under an administration wide review process the acting spokesman, Robert Wood, doesn't have many answers to satisfy the journalists who cover the daily briefings. For now it is a plausible answer but the time will come all too soon when "the policy is being reviewed" will no longer be an acceptable answer.

Finally, that other integral part of the job, traveling abroad to visit leaders and attend conferences, is about to kick in. Clinton leaves this weekend on a week long trip with stops in four major Asian capitals-Tokyo, Jakarta, Seoul and Beijing. On her agenda are taking the next steps in dealing with North Korea's nuclear program, the global financial crisis, global climate change, human rights and, in general, representing President Barack Obama. Don't look for any big changes in policy pronouncements, her aides say, but just getting out from behind her desk should be a welcome relief.

How has Hillary Clinton adapted from her recent roles as senator and presidential candidate? As she presided over a ceremony sending a delegation off to India to promote American jazz and commemorate the 50th anniversary of Martin Luther King, Jr.'s historic trip to India, Clinton quipped "as secretary of state, I am improvising every single day."
  • Charles Wolfson

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