Struggling to Control the Message, Hillary Clinton Completes Tough Trip Abroad

Tension and miscues mark secretary's visits to Pakistan and the Arab world.

ByABC News
November 4, 2009, 1:39 PM

Nov. 5, 2009— -- It has been a tough trip abroad for Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, arguably her most challenging since becoming America's top diplomat.

Unlike previous trips where her star power outshined her critics, Clinton was confronted time and again in the past week with intense skepticism about U.S. policy during stops in Pakistan and the Arab world, and some of her remarks did more to ruffle feathers than iron out concerns.

During a three-day visit to Pakistan, Clinton sought to expand U.S. cooperation there beyond the controversial military and counterterrorism missions. She reached out to students and prominent journalists in town hall-style meetings and interviews where she announced hundreds of millions of dollars in U.S. assistance for humanitarian assistance, education, and energy projects.

The meetings were similar to those Clinton has held on every trip abroad, from India to Moscow, where her popularity ensured at least cordial interactions. In Pakistan, however, her celebrity proved no match for the skepticism of U.S. intentions among the population there.

Clinton was bombarded at every turn with questions, mostly pointed though polite and many grounded in fact, about the use of U.S. drone aircraft to attack top terror targets inside Pakistan, U.S. support for the government of former President Pervez Musharraf and strings attached to U.S. aid.

For the most part, Clinton parried each query deftly and tried to explain U.S. policy, separating fact from rumor. She did, however, appear exasperated at times. At a town hall meeting with students in Lahore, Clinton tried to convince them of the need to pursue terror targets in remote parts of the country.

"I mean, if you want to see your territory shrink, that's your choice," she said at one point. "But I don't think that's the right choice."

Later the same day, Clinton took off the diplomatic gloves and said bluntly what had been whispered by U.S. officials for years; that Pakistan had not made the necessary effort to go after top al Qaeda leadership believed to be hiding within its borders.