In Clinton's case, it may be a sense of security about who she is as a global personality that has allowed her to stand back and make way for other high-powered figures to take on the day-to-day management of key portfolios. The idea of naming Senator Mitchell as Middle East envoy came from Clinton, aides say: Obama wanted someone working on the Middle East peace issue full time from the beginning of his presidency, and Clinton knew she wouldn't be able to dedicate the time required as she learned her new job and focused on other priorities like China and Asia, where she symbolically chose to make her first major trip as secretary.
"Maybe it doesn't matter to her; she's already a star," says Aaron David Miller, a Middle East expert who has worked under six secretaries of State. "She's a very smart leader with a real persona." But he says Clinton nevertheless has two formidable obstacles in her path: an "unforgiving world where diplomatic breakthroughs are very hard to come by," and a bureaucratic structure that "leaves her on the outside of ownership of the big issues."
That second factor may be about to change, as Clinton dives into the Middle East peace process.
But Mr. Miller, now at Washington's Woodrow Wilson Center for International Scholars, says Clinton is a blank slate when it comes to being a negotiator – a talent that he considers one of the defining attributes of a great secretary of State.
"Consequential secretaries of State are great for one of two reasons, and one of them is that they solve problems," he says. "You either look at the world as a chessboard or you don't; it's not something learned. It remains an open question: Does Hillary Clinton have the negotiator's mind-set?"