See an interactive map of the travels of the last four secretaries of state here.
How do you measure a legacy of an American secretary of state? Sure, there are dramatic moments -- treaties signed, crises negotiated, shuttles taken -- but much of the secretary's time is also taken up with lower-profile fence-mending and keeping up relationships with countries that don't get much media attention and where the tangible results of a meeting might not be so obvious. The world's eyes may have been focused on Hillary Clinton during the negotiations over Chinese dissident Chen Guangcheng in May -- and the public had some concrete notion of what was and wasn't accomplished. Her visit to Bangladesh a few days later on the same trip? Not so much.
That may be why there's so much attention paid to the most tangible, if not most telling, way of measuring a secretary of state's performance: travel statistics. The State Department's website provides numbers for Clinton's total mileage (792,618), countries visited (98), total time in the air (71.9 days), and travel days (329). The website of her predecessor, Condoleezza Rice, had a similar feature, listing her final stats as 93.7 days in the air, 85 countries visited, and 86 trips taken.
With her tenure winding down, Clinton is already "most traveled" in terms of countries -- just recently surpassing Madeleine Albright, at 96 -- and days, though she appears unlikely to catch up with Rice in miles, at 1,059,247. Clinton's predecessor made a flurry of long-mileage trips back and forth to the Middle East in the final months of George W. Bush's administration, and made 23 trips to Israel in total. Media reports have covered the "race" between the two secretaries at various points in Clinton's tenure, and while officials are publicly adamant to point out that it's not a competition, it's also pretty clear that the "most traveled" title is taken pretty seriously.
Colby Cooper, Rice's former chief of staff, says he had the idea early in Rice's time in office to spruce up the page on the State Department website tracking the secretary's travel -- which had began during Colin Powell's term.
"After a while, we realized she was approaching a statistical record on miles traveled," he remembers. "It wasn't so much a competition -- at the end of the day the secretary didn't give two hoots about this -- but it was fun keeping the aggregate of what she was doing from a numerical sense. When you start adding it up, you realize that you're about to broach a million miles. Even in this day and age, that's pretty impressive."
While working for Rice, Cooper compiled a complete record of the travels of all 67 secretaries of state, cross-tabulating which countries have been visited by which secretary. He also noted that Rice's travels were equivalent to 42.54 trips around the world at the equator or 4.43 trips to the moon.
The Clinton team also declares its secretary the "most traveled," but prefers a different metric.
"Woody Allen nailed it when he said 90 percent of life is showing up. She's already visited more [countries] than any of her predecessors. One hundred should be on our next trip to Europe. And she's got a lot of time left, so 110 is a fair guess [by the end of her term]. That would be 15 more than the previous highest, accomplished by Madeleine Albright," says Clinton's spokesman Philippe Reines.
Reines argues that countries visited are a better indicator of a secretary's diplomatic activity.
"Miles is obviously another valid indicator, but doesn't tell the whole story as much as countries visited, total trips, or number of days abroad do," he says. "As an absurd example, a Secretary who travels to Singapore 100 times is going to rack up 5,000,000 miles (and remember that many are visited multiple times like Israel, Egypt, China, Pakistan, Afghanistan, on and on) while one who visits 100 countries could only travel 1,000,000 miles. Which makes more sense in furtherance of our foreign-policy goals?"
(In case you're wondering, a refueling stop doesn't count as a "country visited." The secretary has to have an official event.)
The Washington Post's Glenn Kessler, formerly the paper's diplomatic correspondent, keeps his own running tally of secretaries' travel days and quibbles with the official records kept by Rice and Clinton, since they count travel time as well as time spent conducting diplomatic business. "I deduct a day from every trip for travel time," he says. "That seems like the most fair way to do it." Kessler also dismisses the importance of mileage as "meaningless in terms of actual diplomacy." According to Kessler's numbers, as of April, Rice had 264 days on the road to Clinton's 239.