America, and indeed the whole world, owes outgoing Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton an enormous amount of gratitude for her yeoman and tireless work in behalf of our nation over the past four tumultuous years. After president Barack Obama emerged victorious in the Democrat presidential primary in 2008, it would've been easy for Ms. Clinton to take a well-deserved sojourn from the rigors of political life and smell the roses for a while before entering the fray again, if she so wished. Instead she answered the new president's invitation for a position in his cabinet that turned out to be arguably the most challenging set of circumstances ever faced by an American Secretary of State.
Most politically-knowledgeable people are well-versed re: the challenges (to put it kindly) left to the Obama administration by the outgoing Bush/Cheney team in January, 2009. Our economy was in a shambles both internally (banking and housing crises, AIG/car manufacturers and big business failures, millions of domestic jobs lost) and externally (EU financial weaknesses affecting our dollar strength, stock market down to 8300, American jobs moving to overseas markets, etc.). We were embroiled in two wars, one of which was an example of governmental ugliness based on lies and trumped-up charges and resulted in the deaths of over a million innocent people. And all save for the most myopic realize that the United States is in an exponentially better place now that we were on Inauguration Day, 2009.
Hillary Clinton's plate over her term as Secretary would've been a full one anyway administering the cessation of the Iraq War along with Obama and Secretary of Defense Robert Gates and (starting in 2011) Leon Panetta, coupled with the duties of winding down the Afghanistan conflict (American fighting there will be ending in late 2013/early 2014). But a less-obvious set of responsibilities was left to her from the Bush years as well: the mending of fences with most of our European and Asian allies necessitated by the leftover fractiousness from those who refused to join in the Iraq imbroglio (Russia, Germany and France, among others). Her brilliant "smart power" speech in 2009 was a direct repudiation of the prior Republican administration's use of deliberate and deadly force in Iraq, and stressed that America as the world's superpower would definitely wield that power when necessary around the globe, but not for frivolous and destructive purposes. "We must use what has been called "smart power": the full range of tools at our disposal -- diplomatic, economic, military, political, legal, and cultural -- picking the right tool, or combination of tools, for each situation. With smart power, diplomacy will be the vanguard of foreign policy." She was also signaling that the Bush Doctrine of endless war was over.
During her four years Clinton set a Secretary of State record by travelling to 112 nations and logging just under ONE MILLION flying miles, both numbers setting an all-time standard for the position. Some of her most important keynote speeches over this period include her Geneva International Human Rights Day appearance in 2010 focusing on gay rights ("It should never be a crime to be gay"); her December 2012 speech in Israel exhorting continued work between that nation and Palestine; her Clinton Global Initiative (CGI) talk in New York last year re: the furthering of worldwide technological advances and where these developments would strengthen alliances; her 2009 unveiling of her International Global Hunger Summit Initiative that encompassed Africa as well as the world's other most impoverished nations, et al. She also became the first Secretary to visit Burma since 1955, starting that nation on a long-overdue march toward democracy. There's a wealth of good reading online for anyone interested, as many of her speeches are GOOGLEABLE in detail, and showcase her extreme knowledge of world affairs (which she possessed even before accepting the job due to her First Lady and Senate years), as well as the altruistic nature and principles of this woman, aspects which many Americans lose sight of due to her powerful, no-nonsense personality.
Hillary Rodham Clinton has earned the right many times over to call the next couple of years "her own". And there's millions of Americans who are hoping that another presidential run is in the offing in 2016, should she desire to enter the fray at the age of 68. Whether she does or not her legacy is secure, her approval ratings with most Americans being just about at the highest point of her long career, and she would probably be the Democrat to beat in 2016.