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Hillary Clinton: A quiet brand of statecraft

Hillary Clinton has been loyal to President Obama, her one-time rival. Now she's seeking to redefine U.S. foreign policy for a new century, even as the latest mideast peace talks test her skills as a negotiator.

By Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor / September 25, 2010

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton bade farewell before boarding a plane to head home following a regional forum of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations in Hanoi, Vietnam, in July.




Barely 48 hours had passed since daughter Chelsea's Hudson River Valley wedding, and Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton – still clearly in the glow of mother-of-the-bride-dom – was back giving full attention to her role as chief diplomat and administrator for the foreign policy of President Obama.

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Taking the stage Aug. 3 in a turquoise pantsuit before a sea of young African leaders invited to Washington for a presidential initiative, Secretary Clinton told her audience in a deadpan voice that her talk on the US trade and development partnership with sub-Saharan Africa would have to wait. She had a little business to clear up first.

"When I was in Nairobi last year, a very nice man offered 40 goats and a number of cows for the chance to marry my daughter," she said as cellphone cameras snapped a shot of one of the world's most powerful and recognizable women. Noting that her husband, former President Bill Clinton, had received the same offer from the same man five years earlier, Clinton added, "As of this week, I can now say with great certainty my daughter is officially off the market."

IN PICTURES: Travels with Hillary Clinton

Despite some wincing by a few Africans in the audience who considered it a ham-handed remark – with its images of a continent of goatherds and young women as chattel – the hearty laughter and camera clicks suggested something else. For most of the young Africans in the hall, especially the women, it was a thrill to be so intimately addressed by Clinton.

Clinton's speech that early August afternoon was a small affair among the hundreds of talks she has given, the thousands of miles traveled, and dozens of fraught issues addressed as secretary of State – from crafting a "reset" with Russia to addressing China's military rise with East Asian allies. But there she was, expounding on the role she sees development playing in US foreign policy, with special emphasis on a favorite theme – women.

In that sense, it offered a glimpse into how this reluctant chief diplomat with the unique curriculum vitae – former first lady and senator from New York, and onetime chief political rival of the president she serves – culls from personal narrative in her approach to shaping US foreign policy.

It is Hillary Clinton the politician who returns to villages in Africa she last visited as first lady and addresses people by their first names. It is Hillary Clinton the woman and mother who takes alleged mass rapes in the Democratic Republic of Congo as a personal affront. And it is Hillary Clinton, the once-assumed and later vanquished future president, who opened the formal return to Middle East peace talks in Washington this month by urging the Israeli and Palestinian people to rise above "the disappointments of the past" to become "champions" for peace.