July 17, 2009 -- A broken elbow may have slowed her down the past month, but this week Secretary of State Hillary Clinton appears to be making up for lost time.
As pundits in Washington speculated Clinton was being sidelined within the Obama administration and overshadowed by the president's recent high-profile diplomatic forays to the Middle East, Russia, Italy and Ghana, Clinton planned a week filled with events aimed at raising her public profile as chief diplomat.
"I broke my elbow, not my larynx," Clinton quipped Thursday at the State Department. "I have been consistently involved in the shaping and implementation of our foreign policy, and I am off to India and Thailand."
On Thursday, Clinton embarked on her first trip overseas since breaking her elbow June 17 -- bound for India, and later Thailand.
With foreign policy heavyweight Vice President Joe Biden overseeing the U.S. withdrawal and political reconciliation in Iraq, and Ambassadors Richard Holbrooke and George Mitchell tasked with hot-spots Afghanistan and Pakistan, and the Middle East respectively, it seemed to some observers that Clinton's foreign policy portfolio and stature within the administration was diminishing, especially after losing battles appointing some ambassadors and staff.
On Wednesday, Clinton delivered a wide-ranging speech that outlined the current U.S. foreign policy agenda, addressed the hot-button issue of Iran, and defined areas of personal priority. She praised the president, but evidently sought to distinguish her contributions from his.
"President Obama has led us to think outside the usual boundaries," she said. "He has launched a new era of engagement based on common interests, shared values and mutual respect. Going forward, capitalizing on America's unique strengthens, we must advance those interests through partnership, and promote universal values through the power of our example and the empowerment of people.
"First, though, let me say that while the ideas that shape our foreign policy are critically important, this for me is not simply an intellectual exercise," she added. "For over 16 years, I've had the chance, the privilege, really, to represent our country overseas as first lady, as a senator, and now as secretary of state."
She then followed with a summary of diplomatic experiences over two decades.
Clinton also sought to distinguish current U.S. foreign policy approach from the previous administration's.
"We will not tell our partners to take it or leave it, nor will we insist that they're either with us or against us. In today's world, that's global malpractice," Clinton said.
Clinton called for employing "smart power," a phrase she first mentioned during her January confirmation and further described during her speech Wednesday at the Council on Foreign Relations.
"It means the intelligent use of all means at our disposal, including our ability to convene and connect," Clinton explained. "It means our economic and military strength, our capacity for entrepreneurship and innovation, and the ability and credibility of our new president and his team. It also means the application of old-fashioned common sense in policymaking. It's a blend of principle and pragmatism."
Clinton also took the opportunity to outline current U.S. foreign policy on the high-profile issue of Iran -- a topic Biden received attention for after his remark on ABC's "This Week," where he implied the U.S. would not stop Israel from employing a missile strike against Iran's nuclear facilities.
Clinton said the offer to engage in "direct talks" remained on the table, and such talks were the best vehicle for communicating the choice Iran faced -- between forgoing a nuclear weapons program and joining the international community, or facing further isolation. Clinton also issued a caveat.
"We remain ready to engage with Iran, but the time for action is now. The opportunity will not remain open indefinitely," Clinton said.
Clinton Cites International Development as a 'Personal Priority'
Clinton also sought to distinguish one area as her "personal priority" -- the elevation and integration of international development as a core pillar of American power.
"We advance our security, our prosperity and our values by improving the material conditions of people's lives around the world," Clinton said.
"A central purpose of the quadrennial diplomacy and development review that I announced last week is to explore how to effectively design, fund and implement development and foreign assistance as part of a broader foreign policy," Clinton said of her new initiative, which aims to enhance coordination between the U.S. Agency for International Development and the State Department.
Clinton mentioned that one of the global problems the initiative would seek to combat is hunger in Africa, where President Obama last week delivered a high-profile speech on democracy and development.
She also mentioned she would be traveling to Pakistan and Russia this fall -- two more trips that could help raise her profile and help best Obama's count in trips abroad this year, if not his worldwide popularity.
Yet, the secretary's moves come during a time when the American public may be preoccupied with more domestic concerns -- Judge Sonia Sotomayor's bid for confirmation to the Supreme Court, Congress's tortuous path towards health care reform, and the enduring economic recession. In fact, during Clinton's Wednesday speech, the president gave one of his own on health care reform.