[cnn-photo-caption image=http://i2.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2009/POLITICS/02/16/us.clinton.asia.trip/art.clinton.japan.afp.gi.jpg caption="U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton at Haneda International Airport, Tokyo, Japan, Monday."]
CNN Foreign Affairs Editor
As Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton has a big plane, the official seal of the Secretary on the door, a bed and easy chair aboard. She doesn't appear to be sleeping much but she doesn't look tired. Aides say she's digesting more briefing books, in addition to the thousand of pages of backgrounders she boned up on for her confirmation hearing about a month ago. She also deliberately planned this trip to be intense, they say, that's how she likes to travel.
On this leg of the trip en route to Tokyo she came back to the section of the plane where the journalists sit (near the galley where the crew makes the meals) to take some questions. Planes are noisy places to talk so her aides set up a mini-speaker system with a microphone so that she – and the questioners – can be heard. We set our tape recorders in front of the speakers to make sure we get the quotes right. No one stumped her.
As one woman who knows Hillary Clinton well put it: "Wellesley girls know how to do their homework." Diplomats, experts and even cynical journalists I've talked with who have met with Clinton or seen her in action says she has an extraordinary ability to delve into the minutiae of a subject, from extraction industries to global warming's effects on the Arctic. She's also learned the diplomatic art of saying something – and not saying something.
I watched her hone some of these skills back in the 1990's when, as First Lady, she traveled to a number of countries in Asia, Latin America, Europe and the former Soviet Union. I was one of the White House correspondents covering what we dubbed the "Hillary trips." We traveled on the plane with her during those trips too and they were relatively informal affairs. We had a chance to have dinner with her and talk about subjects other than work.
Her speaking style at that time was a bit stiff but those trips, plus two years of running for president, seem to have helped her connect with people more effectively, in fact, she often comes across best in one-on-one conversations which she peppers with a surprisingly loud laugh.
Which is not to say that Hillary Rodham Clinton is not a wonk. She is; just listen to her delved into the issue of plutonium enrichment versus highly enriched uranium. It's enough to make a physicist jealous.
Running for office also teaches you to control your face. Try it – it's not easy. One yawn, one glance at a watch, one frown can be caught by a camera and become the story of the day. Hillary Clinton, as Secretary of State, stands erect, and wears the smile of a woman in charge.
Her fellow diplomats seemed charmed. Or have they simply mastered the art of looking enamored with someone? Who knows? Whatever it is, it seems to be working.
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