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Hillary Clinton's star power overshadowed, analysts say

The Secretary of State has seen her debut months dominated by her boss, President Obama, as well as a White House inner circle that has strong ties to him, observers say.

July 16, 2009|Paul Richter

WASHINGTON — Sidelined for the last month by a broken elbow, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton wanted to make a splash with a much-touted speech Wednesday.

State Department aides billed it as a major foreign policy address and distributed excerpts in advance in an apparent effort to raise her visibility as chief U.S. diplomat.

In the speech, Clinton called for a new "architecture of global cooperation." Outlining her view of global relationships, she said the administration's goal is to enlist more partners -- individuals and groups, as well as governments -- in solving world problems.

"We will offer a place at the table to any nation, group, or citizen willing to shoulder a fair share of the burden," she said, speaking to an audience of experts at the Council on Foreign Relations.

Clinton reiterated the administration's positions on several key issues, including Iran and Middle East peace, without breaking new ground. She said that although the administration wanted talks with Iran, "the offer will not remain open indefinitely."

Aides said Clinton has been eager to return to a full schedule of work after the elbow injury, which forced her to cancel an overseas trip and other meetings. But some analysts believe that her problems extend beyond the broken bone, and that she has been overshadowed in her first six months on the job.

Though the former New York senator and first lady brought star power to her post, they say, the debut months of the administration's foreign policy have been dominated by her boss, President Obama, as well as a White House inner circle that has strong ties to him.

In a succession of overseas trips, Obama has laid out an agenda that marked a break from the approach of President George W. Bush. Clinton has had to share the spotlight as well with other foreign policy heavyweights, such as Mideast envoy George J. Mitchell, Afghanistan-Pakistan representative Richard C. Holbrooke and Vice President Joe Biden.

Although administration officials insist that she is a major player in all top decisions, she has not been the leading voice so far on the urgent national security issues -- whether Iran, North Korea or Arab-Israeli peace; Afghanistan, Pakistan or Iraq.

"It's fair to say that in the first six months it's been a very Obama-centric policy," said David Rothkopf, a foreign policy specialist and author, and a former Clinton administration official. "Obama has brought a huge break with Bush and Cheney -- he is the foreign policy."

He said Obama has also been surrounded by influential aides, such as Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel, senior advisor David Axelrod and deputy national security advisor Denis McDonough, who have often appeared as spokesmen for the new foreign policy.

Henri Barkey, a visiting scholar at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace and a former Clinton administration official, said Clinton's stature gave her the capability to be a "force multiplier" for Obama's foreign policy.

So far, he said, "she has put herself in the background, to deal with secondary issues. I'm disappointed."

But like Rothkopf, Barkey said it is early in the term and Clinton's profile may change considerably.

State Department officials dismissed portrayals of Clinton as a secondary player. But some State Department officials have said there has been concern at the department that Clinton has not gotten enough credit for her efforts.

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paul.richter@latimes.com

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