WASHINGTON - After nearly a million miles of travel to 112 countries, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton is closing her term on the familiar home ground of partisan politics and crackling fascination with the ambitions of a woman almost no one thinks is really leaving public life.
Friday is Clinton's last day as the United States' top diplomat, a plum job but still a runner-up to the presidency she sought four years ago. No matter how often she says she isn't running again four years from now, Clinton walks out of the State Department a presumptive Democratic favorite.
Noting her pending departure in a talk to the Council on Foreign Relations on Thursday, Clinton said: "And though it is hard to predict what any day in this job will bring, I know that tomorrow, my heart will be very full. Serving with the men and women of the State Department and USAID has been a singular honor."
Clinton leaves with a mixed record: She has garnered admiration around the world but has no major diplomatic achievements on par with those of other well-known secretaries of state, such as Henry Kissinger or George Marshall.
She oversaw a diplomatic opening to Myanmar and the difficult birth of the world's newest country, South Sudan. She helped hold together a fragile world coalition opposed to Iranian nuclear development but saw the U.S. partnership with Russia disintegrate. It's too soon to score her stewardship of U.S. interests in the fallout from the "Arab Spring" uprisings, but she was unable to stop Syria's slide into civil war.
Rand Corp.'s James Dobbins, a former ambassador, said Clinton was denied big diplomatic breakthroughs but also leaves without "catastrophic failures." "She turned out, perhaps rather surprisingly given her reputation for sharp elbows, to be a very competent and even quite popular manager of a large, complex bureaucracy and a highly collegial player on a 'team of rivals,'" he said.
Clinton took responsibility but not blame for the deaths of a U.S. ambassador and three other Americans in Libya last year. It was the biggest debacle of her term and became a white-hot issue for Republicans. A former Clinton Senate colleague, Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., said Clinton "got away with murder."
Many of Clinton's successes appeared to be due largely to her personal popularity and famous work ethic. Clinton, 65, hands off to John Kerry, leaving the Obama Cabinet without a woman among the premier posts.
Robert Schmuhl, a professor at the University of Notre Dame, said Clinton's "personal stature helped open doors, but her diplomatic skills kept them open." "In most places, there's a higher regard for the United States as she leaves her post. That in itself is a significant achievement, proving that her endless travel had consequence."
That travel took Clinton from Afghanistan to Zambia, an odyssey that led "Foreign Policy" magazine to dub her the "secretary of schlep."