WASHINGTON -- Hillary Clinton completes her tenure as the 67th U.S. secretary of state on February 1. She leaves the post with sky-high approval ratings and, according to President Barack Obama, major credit for restoring America's image and frayed alliances.
In an unusual joint interview broadcast on January 27 on the CBS News show "60 Minutes," Obama said Clinton “will go down as one of the finest secretaries of state we've had."
During four years as the country’s top diplomat, Clinton was seen as tireless, traveling nearly 1 million miles (1.6 million kilometers) and visiting a record 112 countries.
Aides called her a master of her brief, recalling work days that lasted well past midnight as she caught up on developments in far-flung countries.
Those around her say she excelled at combining the key diplomatic tools of tough talk, likability, and listening skills.
'Good, But Not Extraordinary'
She forged international consensus on the toughest Iran sanctions to date, roused support for intervention in Libya, and established diplomatic ties with Burma (aka Myanmar). She reinvigorated ties with Europe and was an energetic supporter of the rights of women and girls.
Clinton’s solid reputation even survived the political controversy surrounding the deadly September 11, 2012, attack on the U.S. diplomatic mission in Benghazi that left U.S. Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans dead.
However, analysts also point to the lack of a landmark achievement that bears her name -- something on the scale of Henry Kissinger's work on detente or George Marshall's theory of containment -- or a breakthrough on a major international problem during her time on the job.
Many in Washington's foreign policy community say she leaves behind a legacy that is very good, but not extraordinary.
Michael O'Hanlon, the director of foreign-policy research at the Brookings Institution, puts Clinton one notch below history's most memorable secretaries of state.
"If you're not historic, it doesn't always mean that you haven't done a great job. It may be a function of circumstances. And sometimes people are historic for bad reasons, not just good reasons: Look at some of the Vietnam-era secretaries of state and defense," O'Hanlon said.
"You know, Jim Baker didn't want to touch Bosnia[-Herzegovina]. But there wasn't a big issue where it's easy to say [Clinton] made the fundamental difference and that we are now in a radically different place than we were when she was secretary."
PHOTO GALLERY: Hillary Clinton as secretary of state
Hillary Clinton (left) is joined by her husband, former U.S. President Bill Clinton (center), and daughter, Chelsea Clinton (right), as she is ceremonially sworn in as secretary of state at the State Department in Washington on February 2, 2009.
Hillary Clinton accepted the position as President Barack Obama's (left) secretary of state after losing out to him as the Democratic Party's candidate for president in 2008.
Hillary Clinton stands with her daughter Chelsea (left) as she prepares to testify before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee during her confirmation hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington to become secretary of state in January 2009.
Hillary Clinton was the third woman to be the U.S. secretary of state after Madeleine Albright (left), pictured here in the White House in November 2000, blazed the trail under President Bill Clinton from 1996 to 2000.
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton pauses to put on lipstick while talking with Turkish President Abdullah Gul (right) at the start of a United Nations Security Council meeting at the UN headquarters in New York on September 23, 2010.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel (right) laughs with Secretary of State Clinton during a luncheon held in Merkel's honor at the State Department on June 7, 2011.
Hillary Clinton gives Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu (left) a "high five" at the start of their bilateral meeting at the Emirates Palace Hotel in Abu Dhabi in the United Arab Emirates on June 9, 2011.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton (left) gestures with Libyan soldiers upon her departure from Tripoli, Libya, on October 18, 2011.
Clinton (left) accepts a Los Angeles Lakers uniform from NBA legend and State Department cultural ambassador Kareem Abdul-Jabbar during their meeting in Washington on January 18, 2012.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton (left) winks after being handed a pillow for her back while speaking at the Senate Appropriations Committee about the 2013 budget request in Washington on February 28, 2012.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton (center) is dressed by Emmie Phiri, head of a dairy farmers group, during her visit to Malawi on August 5, 2012. Clinton was the first secretary of state to visit the southeast African state.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton poses for a photograph with Nelson Mandela (left), former president of South Africa, at his home in Qunu on August 6, 2012.
Russian President Vladimir Putin (left) welcomes U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton upon her arrival at the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit in Vladivostok, Russia, on September 8, 2012.
Hillary Clinton says of her four years as secretary of state: "I think we have to go back to my beginning in January of 2009 to remember how poorly perceived the United States was, how badly damaged our reputation was, how our leadership was in question, how the economic crisis had really shaken people’s confidence in our government, our economic system, our country. Part of my job in the very beginning was to get around the world and restore confidence in American leadership."
The lack of a "Clinton Doctrine," O'Hanlon says, is largely due to the nature of the major world problems that she inherited -- from the Israeli-Palestinian issue to the standoff with North Korea -- many of which he says are in the "long, slow, tough-it-out phase."
He says Clinton may have made her most memorable contributions in Asia, where she stood up to China at regional forums and reestablished ties with Burma. She also commanded fresh respect for the United States as the Obama administration pivoted toward Asia, he says.
Asia was also the site of one of the secretary's few controversies. In early 2009, just weeks into the job, she incurred a public backlash after saying the need to press Beijing on its human rights record "can't interfere" with economic cooperation and other issues.
Many human rights activists criticized that statement. “The Washington Post” called it “misguided.”
But in the end, it didn’t portend how she would act in the post. Clinton quickly established a pattern of emphasizing human rights issues on trips abroad and prioritizing meetings with civil society and average citizens.
And things seemed to come full circle during a May 2012 trip to China, when Clinton's diplomatic finesse helped resolve a standoff involving the dissident Chen Guangcheng, who had escaped house arrest and sought refuge at the U.S. Embassy.
In their joint television interview, Obama praised Clinton for improving the State Department's coordination with the Pentagon. Those efforts, he said, helped wind down the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and disrupt Al-Qaeda's core, including tracking down and killing Osama bin Laden.
And yet Aaron David Miller, a U.S. foreign-policy expert at Washington's Woodrow Wilson Center, says the White House rarely gave Clinton the reins on "big-think strategy.”
He says special envoys appointed by the president, like the late Richard Holbrooke, who worked on Afghanistan and Pakistan, sometimes overshadowed Clinton.
Clinton was left to focus on a different set of issues, Miller says, and made "a virtue out of necessity."
"She identified an agenda -- I call it 'planetary humanism.' These issues are important [and] I'm not trivializing them: gender issues, lesbian and gay rights, antidiscrimination efforts, press freedom, social media, the environment," Miller said. "These are all 21st century issues. They're important. They're just not the kinds of issues that normally get you nominated as a great or truly consequential secretary of state."
Analysts say it's too soon to offer the final word on Clinton's legacy. It is still unclear, for example, whether the Iran sanctions she helped facilitate will lead to movement on the nuclear issue. Under her watch, the "reset" with Russia led to early and varied cooperation, but relations have since plunged. It is also not clear whether the Libya coalition she helped establish between NATO and Arab countries sets a precedent for the future. Also to be determined is just how consequential her State Department's emphasis on Twitter and social media outreach will be.
Clinton is not unaware of the mixed assessments.
When asked about them in a January 29 interview with CNN, she emphasized her global outreach.
"I think we have to go back to my beginning in January of 2009 to remember how poorly perceived the United States was, how badly damaged our reputation was, how our leadership was in question, how the economic crisis had really shaken people’s confidence in our government, our economic system, our country," Clinton said.
"Part of my job in the very beginning was to get around the world and restore confidence in American leadership."
On the lack of a big breakthrough on her watch, she said, "Diplomacy is sometimes building on steps one after the other."
She also said, "I'm very proud of what we’ve done."