Her Rival Now Her Boss, Clinton Settles Into New Role
By MARK LANDLER
WASHINGTON — Hillary Rodham Clinton insists her transition from presidential contender to secretary of state has been seamless, and in one respect, it is hard to argue with her: she still hustles like a candidate down a few points in the polls the week before Super Tuesday.
But in many other ways, Mrs. Clinton has shed her candidate’s skin. Her campaign staff is largely gone, replaced by a broader circle of advisers. Her husband, who stood behind her at countless campaign stops this time last year, has resumed his globe-trotting life, seeing her on rare weekends at their home in Chappaqua, N.Y.
In this, the latest mutation in a career of many changes, Mrs. Clinton’s days have become a whirl of diplomatic talks, White House meetings and foreign travel: 74,000 miles and 22 countries as of last Sunday, when she returned from Iraq and Lebanon.
By all accounts, Mrs. Clinton has worked hard to be a good soldier in an administration run by the man she spent much of last year trying to defeat. She and President Obama have developed a respectful rapport, several officials said, and she has emerged as an influential voice in the great policy debates of the day, notably Afghanistan and Pakistan.
But State Department officials, and others in the administration, say less-than-generous things about Mr. Obama’s national security adviser, Gen. James L. Jones, suggesting there is some jockeying among the top officials around the president. General Jones, these people say, has struggled with his transition from Marine commander to senior staff person, speaking up less in debates than Mrs. Clinton and not pushing as hard for decisions.
Friends acknowledge that Mrs. Clinton herself was initially swamped by the challenge of taking over the sprawling State Department bureaucracy — management being one deficit in her career. She likens it to being “mayor of a good-sized small city.”
But Mrs. Clinton has turned a corner in recent weeks, these people say, both as a manager and as a diplomat. Her stern public warnings about the recent Taliban offensive in Pakistan put her on center stage as the messenger of American unease.
“I love the job; I mean, it’s really hard,” Mrs. Clinton said in a recent interview. “We’ve inherited so many problems.”
As a former first lady, senator, and presidential candidate, Mrs. Clinton enjoys rarefied status, even for a secretary of state. She has not hesitated to put this to use, whether in rock-star-like appearances in South Korea and Turkey, or in positioning herself at home.
Even before she was confirmed, Mrs. Clinton summoned Richard C. Holbrooke, now the special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan, for a fireside chat at her Washington home with Gen. David H. Petraeus, the commander who oversees the region.
In an unusual arrangement, Mrs. Clinton is protected by both the State Department’s diplomatic security and by the Secret Service, which has protected the Clintons since 1992. As a candidate, Mrs. Clinton was criticized for poor management of her campaign. She appears determined not to repeat her mistakes. Mrs. Clinton said she had sought fresh voices; mindful that previous secretaries of state have been criticized for cloistering themselves on the building’s seventh floor, she has made a point of dropping in at its bureaus.
Few of her campaign officials were offered posts, though Mrs. Clinton has brought over aides from the Senate and from her years as first lady. She has also drawn on veterans of the Clinton inner circle, like Cheryl Mills, who is her chief of staff.
“I don’t know anybody in politics who doesn’t have a group of people,” Mrs. Clinton said. But she added, “A lot of people who I hired, I never worked with, and have just taken on faith and reputation.”
There are other vestiges of Mrs. Clinton’s political life: her Senate campaign committee remains in existence and will hold on to a list of donors to her presidential campaign, a tantalizing clue that she contemplates a use for them in the future.
Mrs. Clinton tries to get to New York once or twice a month, she said, but it has been hard because of her foreign travel. But she said she talks to Mr. Clinton regularly, and exchanges e-mail messages with her daughter, Chelsea, on her BlackBerry, which she is not allowed to use, for security reasons, at work.
Mrs. Clinton turned to her husband, the former president, in planning a recent trip to Haiti because he had been there two weeks earlier. But she said Mr. Clinton had also weighed in with advice to General Jones or Mr. Obama’s chief of staff, Rahm Emmanuel. “He’s always value-added,” she said.
These days, Mrs. Clinton has a regular Thursday afternoon meeting with the current president. People who have been in meetings with them say their relationship is comfortable, if not warm.
On a recent afternoon, at Mrs. Clinton’s suggestion, the two moved their meeting outside to a picnic table on the South Lawn, next to a new swing set installed for Mr. Obama’s daughters. “We just had the best time,” she said.
Mrs. Clinton’s influence as secretary has been somewhat obscured by the choice of highly visible emissaries for two of the world’s hot spots: Mr. Holbrooke and George J. Mitchell as special envoy for the Middle East.
Some foreign-policy experts say the arrangement poses a long-term risk to Mrs. Clinton. “I understand the logic of creating an empire of talented envoys,” said Aaron David Miller, a former Middle East peace negotiator. “But to be a consequential secretary of state, you must put yourself directly in the middle of the mix.”
Mrs. Clinton, however, described the envoys as “force multipliers” and said that enlisting them “has bought us time.” She also said she had the “highest esteem” for General Jones, according to her adviser, Philippe Reines, who added in a statement, “Anyone asserting otherwise is speaking for themselves, not the secretary.”
In recent weeks, Mrs. Clinton has stepped up on key issues: warning Pakistan about the Taliban; orchestrating the first face-to-face contact between the Obama administration and Iran; and throwing Cuba off balance with warm words about restoring ties with Havana.
For Mrs. Clinton, the biggest challenge has been mental: absorbing a mountain of information on issues ranging from the Middle East to the race for fossil fuels in the Arctic Circle.
At 11 p.m. last Saturday, after 13 hours of meetings in Baghdad, Mrs. Clinton’s aides dozed on the military transport plane flying back to Kuwait. She sat alone at the front of the plane’s dimly lighted cargo bay, squinting as she plowed through a pile of briefing papers.
“I lug them everywhere,” Mrs. Clinton said, noting that she had not had time to watch a movie or read a book in the last 100 days.