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Hillary Clinton: A quiet brand of statecraft

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And she has demonstrated the value of having a tested politician as secretary of State – and not only because of her ability to relate to average people in a world where that kind of connection increasingly matters to US foreign-policy goals. She has built on her time on the Senate Armed Services Committee to deepen a relationship with Defense Secretary Robert Gates. The two cabinet members have forged a crucial State-Pentagon relationship at a time when Mr. Gates and other military leaders are calling on the civilian arm of American global reach to take on more of the duties – like nation-building – that the military assumed by default in places like Iraq.

But she also has credibility with her colleagues, the many foreign ministers who are politicians themselves and who appreciate Clinton's grasp of the challenges, if not outright limitations, public opinion often poses.

"People forget that most foreign ministers are also political leaders, especially among our allies," says James Steinberg, one of Clinton's two deputy secretaries and a national-security expert who also served in the Clinton White House. "She can relate to politicians. She knows the particular pressures they face, and that allows her to be particularly effective."

Foreign-policy practitioners and observers alike profess a uniform respect for Clinton's hard work and her mastery of the briefs she takes on. Still, some admit they have less of a feel for where she wants to take US foreign policy.

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