Hillary Clinton Steps Down From State Department, Ending Three Decades of Public Service

Clinton says wasn't thinking about running for president in 2016 just yet.

February 1, 2013, 12:34 PM

Feb. 1, 2013 -- The woman who once went head-to-head with President Obama before becoming a pivotal member of his cabinet is poised to return to the private sector after more than three decades in the public eye.

Outgoing Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who steps down from her post at the State Department today, leaves behind a legacy of 31 years of public service.

The Senate quickly confirmed Obama's nominee to replace her -- one of its own, Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass. -- Tuesday. The president had chosen him last December to take Clinton's place. Clinton has spent the past couple of months helping Kerry move into the post so she could bow out.

Clinton's last year as secretary of state has been a tumultuous one. She has contended with a terrorist attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya, which resulted in the first death of a U.S. ambassador in more than 30 years, and the political fallout of the attack. She also had to confront illness, a concussion and a blood clot that sidelined her for nearly a month. Even her last day on the job had her dealing with a diplomatic crisis after a reported suicide bomber attacked a check point at the U.S. Embassy in Ankara, Turkey, which killed two people.

Over the past three decades, Clinton has served her country as the bulwark of the first family in both Arkansas, when Bill Clinton was governor, and D.C., and as a U.S. senator representing the state of New York. Finally, she became the face of the nation's diplomatic efforts in more than 112 countries around the world.

Clinton broke national and global barriers during her tenure as secretary of state.

PHOTOS: Hillary Clinton Through the Years

She was the first wife of a U.S. president to serve in a presidential cabinet. She traveled to more countries than any other secretary of state before her. She recognized the government in Somalia and paid an official visit to Myanmar, the highest U.S. representative to do so in half a century.

She also navigated the treacherous diplomatic relations of the Arab Spring, working with President Obama in determining when to nudge dictators in the direction of democracy and when to cut ties altogether.

Clinton's departure from the State Department was long foretold. For the past year, she has made clear her intentions to step down and said her goodbyes at outposts all over the world.

In October, she took the blame for State Department security failures that led to the death of four Americans, including Ambassador Christopher Stevens, in Benghazi. It was a move that signaled a willingness to put politics aside and embrace responsibility.

"I take responsibility," Clinton said a month after the attack in an interview in Lima, Peru.

Republicans in the House and Senate criticized Clinton for her brief testimony in the fall, accusing her of leaving them in the dark.

Some even speculated that Clinton was hiding from responsibility when illness kept her from testifying again in December.

But two weeks after she returned to work, Clinton appeared before the House and Senate, again taking the fall.

"As I have said many times since Sept. 11, I take responsibility, and nobody is more committed to getting this right. I am determined to leave the State Department and our country safer, stronger and more secure," Clinton told members of the House Foreign Relations Committee.

In a final "Townterview," Clinton called fighting everywhere for women's rights "the cause of my life."

"First, although it is better than it was, having been in and around politics for many years now, there is still a double standard," Clinton said. "And it is a double standard that exists from, you know, the trivial, like what you wear, to the incredibly serious, like women can't vote, women can't run for office, women are not supposed to be in the public sphere."

Her four years of work focused on advancing rights for women and religious minorities across the globe, helping to maintain the tenuous peace between Israelis and Palestinians, discouraging Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons and, in her own words, "advancing a new approach to development that puts human dignity and self-sufficiency at the heart of our efforts."

Clinton traveled almost 956,733 miles and spent 401 days of her four years traveling, according to the State Department.

She took a month or so off from her prolific travels this winter as a case of the flu and a bad concussion kept Clinton ground-bound, forcing her to cancel a trip to the Middle East and to put off testifying about a report to Congress on the State Department's failure to provide adequate security in Benghazi.

In her last foreign policy speech as secretary of state, Clinton reflected on where the United States had been in January 2009.

"Two wars. An economy in free-fall. Traditional alliances fraying. Our diplomatic standing damaged. And around the world, people questioning America's commitment to core values and our ability to maintain our global leadership. That was my inbox on Day One as secretary of state," Clinton told an audience at the Council on Foreign Relations Thursday.

As she exits the international stage, for now at least, America continues to face challenges, but is in a better position to face them, she said.

"The United States is still the only country that has the reach and resolve to rally disparate nations and peoples together to solve problems on a global scale.  Our ability to convene and connect is unparalleled.  So is our ability to act alone when necessary," Clinton said. "We truly are the indispensable nation. That's not a boast -- it's a recognition of our role and our responsibilities. That's why the declinists are wrong.  And it's why the United States will continue to lead in this century, even as we lead in new ways."

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