Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton’s if-this-is-Thursday-it-must-be-Doha work schedule has earned her a distinction that most airline-miles champions could only dream of: She is now the most-traveled top US diplomat for the first two years in office.
With a January that included a trip to a presidential inauguration in Brazil, a quick hop over to Haiti, and, most significantly (in terms of travel), a six-day, 16,500-mile tour through the Persian Gulf, Secretary Clinton squeaked past former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice for most-traveled bragging rights.
That's not to say Dr. Rice was exactly a Washington-tethered couch potato. While Clinton logged 165 travel days over 40 trips by the end of January – her two-year anniversary in office – Rice had tallied 163 travel days over 39 trips.
In fact, Rice still holds the travel crown by some measures.
State Department archives show that Rice traveled 489,102 miles in 2005 and 2006, her first two years on the job, for a total of 1,026 travel hours. According to Clinton’s official State Department web page, Clinton as of Monday – she returned Sunday from a quick jaunt to Munich – has logged 465,426 miles and 1,010 travel hours on the job so far. (The apples-to-apples, days-of-travel comparison that won Clinton her prize were compiled by Washington Post foreign affairs writer Glenn Kessler.)
What the competing numbers suggest incontrovertibly is that the job of secretary of State in the 21st century is not one for a fear-of-flying homebody – or for the teleconference convert. In the post-cold-war world of rising middle powers and an aspiring superpower, China, the top American diplomat must fly the Stars and Stripes in more corners of the world more often. A greater reliance on soft power and public diplomacy to further America’s interests means the secretary of State has to put in more face time in more places.
Being a road warrior can take its toll on the administration’s top traveler. Clinton has recently joked about how “many days I feel” the effects of her status as most-traveled secretary. Some days she looks fresh and rested when she bounds onto some foreign stage, and other times she looks, well, tired.
But there’s no time to dwell on that. If Clinton wants to keep her travel crown, she’s going to have to keep an eye on Rice’s total travel figures. Over four years, George W. Bush’s top diplomat logged 2,252 travel hours on 86 trips to 85 countries.
Rice’s total miles traveled: 1,059,247.
So, note to Clinton: As daunting as it may sound, if you want to remain America’s most-traveled secretary by the end of President Obama’s first term, you’re going to have to pick up the pace.