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The listening legacy of Hillary Rodham Clinton

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Clinton refers to this security strategy as “smart power,” but its main tactic is to hold back force in reserve in favor of connecting first to other nations through personal ties and building coalitions. A good part of her legacy also lies in building closer ties between the State Department and the Pentagon and in expanding the US diplomatic corps.

“Nobody can match us in military assets and prowess,” she told Congress last week, “but a lot of the challenges we face are not immediately – or sustainably – solved by military action alone.”

Her favorite approach, as seen during official visits to 112 countries, was to listen to private citizens, mainly women, young people, and leaders of “civil society” groups. This listening style allowed her to take the pulse of a country but also plant seeds of goodwill and expand shared values. If she doesn’t run for president in 2016, this “soft power” activism may be her next calling.

She leaves State having enhanced an office devoted to women’s rights and created one dedicated to young people. With Mr. Obama in office for four more years, this style of outreach will likely continue under the incoming secretary of State, Sen. John F. Kerry, a Massachusetts Democrat.

By talking directly to women in countries with mass poverty and conflict, Clinton elevated their status in the economy and as leaders. “People are beginning to see that empowering women leads to economic development. That you don’t espouse women’s rights because it’s a virtuous thing to do but because it leads to economic growth,” she said.

Women are also usually the people most affected by war, and thus often the ones who must be on the front lines of negotiating for peace. Clinton’s global “listening” tours may have left lasting contrails of peacemaking that won’t be seen for decades.

Perhaps the measure of future secretaries of State should no longer be the policy “doctrine” they leave behind but the quality of bonds created with other peoples.

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