“Mrs. Clinton holds the record for the most countries visited by a secretary of state, 112, though her total of 956,733 air miles will fall short of the 1.06 million logged by her predecessor, Condoleezza Rice."
— New York Times, Jan. 4, 2013
The New York Times came up with a nifty phrase earlier this week in an article about Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s health — that she is the “most widely traveled" secretary of state. That refers to the fact that she has visited more countries than any previous secretary of state.
I’m as guilty as anyone in using travel as a metric for grading a secretary of state, having written an article as The Post’s diplomatic correspondent that negatively assessed Colin Powell’s travel record as secretary of state, based on records maintained by the State Department historian’s office.
Counting countries is another way to do it, though it might also suggest the secretary lacks a clear focus or agenda. The records show that most other secretaries racked up the miles while trying to achieve peace in the Middle East. Clinton earned her country points by hitting all three Baltic states, lots of ’stans, much of the former Yugoslavia and countries not visited by a secretary of state in more than five decades (Laos) or ever (Togo).
But Clinton made only five visits to Israel — the least of any full-term secretary of state since William Rogers, who served in the Nixon administration. By contrast, Condoleezza Rice visited Israel 25 times, Warren Christopher 34 times and Henry Kissinger 36 times.
Now that the State Department has announced that Clinton will no longer travel during her tenure, we thought it would be worth updating the statistics to see where she ranks in terms of what we call “days on the road" — in other words, conducting actual diplomacy and meeting with foreign officials overseas.
Under this method, we ignore the often-useless hours (or days) spent in the air flying to far-flung locations.
In double-checking the records, there was one surprise — the most traveled secretary of state turns out to be George Shultz, largely because he served for more than six years.
Condoleezza Rice certainly wins the prize for a four-year term, but Kissinger (who served for only 39 months) probably would have bested everyone if he had just been able to serve for full 48 months.
Secretary of state travel (engaged in diplomacy overseas)
George Shultz**: 357 days
Condoleezza Rice: 326 days
Henry Kissinger*: 313 days
Madeleine Albright: 310 days
Hillary Clinton: 306 days
James Baker: 283 days
Warren Christopher: 270 days
Colin Powell: 220 days
Cyrus Vance*: 186 days
*less than a four-year term
**more than a four-year term
Clinton, of course, might have done better in the rankings if she had not broken her elbow in 2009, which kept her from traveling for a few weeks, or suffered a concussion recently. Still, cracking into the 300-day club ought to count for something.