For example, in one of the thorniest knots in the U.S. foreign policy arena – the relationship with Pakistan – Ms. Clinton has been a steady proponent of dialogue with its fragile civilian government. Even when she had a difficult message to convey, she “always positioned herself as a friend, who was telling you as much what was in your interest as much as in America’s,” says Husain Haqqani, who served as Pakistan’s ambassador to the U.S. from 2008 to 2011 and now teaches at Boston University.
In September, 2011, he recalls, Ms. Clinton confronted Pakistan’s foreign minister over a cross-border militant organization responsible for deadly attacks on U.S. troops in Afghanistan. When the Pakistanis cited their official position, denying any knowledge of the group’s havens in their country, Ms. Clinton, calm but firm, put her foot down, citing U.S. intelligence to bolster her point.
“There is no silver bullet solution to Pakistan,” says Vali Nasr, a former foreign-policy adviser to the President and a professor at Johns Hopkins University. But Ms. Clinton knew to “constantly work at them to do a little bit more, a little bit more.”
Mostly, Ms. Clinton remains a pragmatic politician, one who prefers not to tilt at windmills. Colleagues say that’s an advantage in dealing with foreign leaders: She understands their electoral calculus, but doesn’t accept it as an excuse.
And she has pushed to reshape policy in less visible ways. Ms. Clinton played a key role in the Obama administration’s “pivot to Asia” – an attempt to rebalance military and diplomatic resources to the region – and its embrace of economic statecraft. Alone among Mr. Obama’s top advisers, she supported a military intervention in Libya, disagreeing with Robert Gates, then secretary of defence, and National Security Adviser Thomas Donilon, who favoured caution.
In the end, the decision was the President’s, but Ms. Clinton diligently worked to prepare the field. Travelling in Europe and the Middle East, she corralled wavering members of the coalition that backed the multinational intervention in Libya, persuading the United Arab Emirates, for instance, to stay on board.
It’s unclear whether Ms. Clinton’s contribution to the Libya mission will be hailed or pilloried in the long run. “If in five years, Libya is a semi-stable, successful democracy, people like Hillary Clinton and [United Nations Ambassador] Susan Rice will look good,” says Robert Kaplan, a fellow at the Center for a New American Security, a Washington think tank. “If, on the other hand, Libya has dissolved into some chaotic state…”
Ms. Clinton draws hundreds, sometimes thousands, of people to her public events abroad, inelegantly dubbed “townterviews” (a cross between “town hall” and “interview”).
Barkha Dutt, one of India’s most well-known television journalists, hosted such a forum in Kolkata, where Ms. Clinton – speaking slowly and clearly in a deep voice whose accent retains traces of her Midwestern childhood – answered pointed questions, including some from teenagers, about the U.S. role in the world for an hour.
“The fact that she’s willing to sit there and take questions from a 16-year-old child – it’s so charming, that’s half the battle won,” Ms. Dutt says.
She “manages to combine the impression of being deep while being fun.”
Indeed, the idea of Ms. Clinton as a humourless scold – always the stuff of caricature – has fled during her time at the State Department.
She submitted her own entry to a wildly popular Tumblr account – Texts from Hillary – that spoofed her reputation as, well, a bit of a bad ass. She was photographed drinking (gasp) a bottle of beer and dancing with her staff during an evening out in Colombia.
And the woman who once said that if she wanted to knock a world event off the front page, all she had to do was change her hairstyle has, in fact, changed her hairstyle. She wears it loose and cascading to her shoulders, or sensibly tied back.
Even in one of the world’s busiest jobs, friends say, Ms. Clinton finds time to reach out when someone is ill or a family member passes away, with a call, a visit or an invitation to dinner.