By Patricia Sellers
July 15, 2009

Hillary Clinton, who has been under the radar lately, spoke at the Council on Foreign Relations in D.C. this afternoon. I listened in by phone.

She talked tough about Iran. She announced a fall trip to Pakistan. She highlighted “smart power,” defining it as “the intelligent use of all means at our disposal, including our ability to convene and connect.” And she spoke passionately about women: “Until women around the world are accorded their rights–and afforded the opportunities of education, health care, and gainful employment–global progress and prosperity will have its own glass ceiling.”

That quote struck me and made me think about how Clinton is reshaping the Secretary of State role. For one thing, she’s focusing on women around the world more than any other Secretary of State has (even as two recent predecessors, Condi Rice and Madeleine Albright, were women). Clinton created a new post, Ambassador-at-Large for Global Women’s Issues, which she mentioned today. She appointed Melanne Verveer, who was her chief of staff in the Clinton White House, to that job. (We know Melanne well: Before she took this post, she headed Vital Voices, a non-profit that’s a partner of ours in the Fortune-U.S. State Department Global Mentoring Partnership.)

Today’s most interesting remarks came during a follow-up Q&A, moderated by CFR president Richard Haass. Secretary Clinton talked about India, where she’s headed tomorrow for a five-day visit (and from there, to Thailand). In India, she’ll meet with Prime Minister Singh–“aiming to broaden and deepen engagement,” she said. This “engagement” is even broader than you might think. Climate change and clean energy are part of it. In India, Clinton said, she’ll be visiting the country’s first LEED-certified building.

As I listened to Clinton today, I thought about how the role of Secretary of State–just like most every other job, including CEO of a company–is broader than it used to be. And doing a job well requires more adaptability and more learning-on-the-fly than ever. Don’t you feel that?

So it goes for Hillary Clinton. She got fired up at the end when she talked about the State Department’s role in helping to shore the global economy: “The economic role of the State Department needs to be strengthened,” she said, adding, “Strategic and economic concerns cannot be divorced.”

Who would have imagined that she’d be doing this job in the Obama Administration? Clinton clearly  is engaged. The Obama Administration is “all hands on deck,” she said today—and doing more than expected is “part of our responsibility now.”

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