Jet-setting Hillary Clinton breaks travel record

If diplomatic achievements were measured by the number of countries visited, Hillary Rodham Clinton would be the most accomplished US secretary of state in history.

US secretary of state Hillary Clinton arrives at Noi Bai International Airport in Hanoi as part of a France-Afghanistan-Japan-Mongolia-Vietnam-Laos-Cambodia-Egypt-Israel itinerary, described by a staffer as “especially absurd, even for us”.
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WASHINGTON // If diplomatic achievements were measured by the number of countries visited, Hillary Rodham Clinton would be the most accomplished US secretary of state in history.

When her plane touched down at Andrews Air Force Base outside Washington yesterday morning, the former first lady and America's top diplomat completed an epic 13-day journey of 43,450 kilometres - about 3,220 kilometres more than the circumference of the Earth - through and over Europe to Asia and then doubling back to the Middle East.

One well-traveled Clinton staffer described the France-Afghanistan-Japan-Mongolia-Vietnam-Laos-Cambodia-Egypt-Israel itinerary as "especially absurd, even for us".

Mrs Clinton joked that she was ready for more.

"I appreciate being here, I am only sorry that I have to leave," she told reporters on her last stop on Monday, in Israel.

Since becoming secretary of state in 2009, Mrs Clinton has logged 351 days on the road, travelled to 102 countries and flown 1,357,964 kilometres, according to the State Department. While some previous secretaries may have flown more miles - mainly due to shuttling back and forth to the Mideast on peace missions - none has visited more nations.

Mrs Clinton broke that record last month, eclipsing Madeleine Albright's total of 98, when she travelled to Finland for number 99 and then hit the 100 mark in Latvia.

Not content, she tacked on another two countries - Mongolia and Laos, where she was the first secretary of state to visit in 57 years and only the second ever - on her latest trip. And she has another six months to go before she reaches her self-imposed deadline to step down and take a break.

Even with a bed on the plane and her uncanny ability to sleep mid-flight, the gruelling schedule can take its toll.

Mrs Clinton suffered a rare coughing fit as she finished a speech before the US Chamber of Commerce in Hanoi.

And while she insisted that she would have preferred to stay all day as birds sang in Kabul's presidential place, she rushed away when the Afghan president, Hamid Karzai, suggested taking additional questions.

Arriving in Egypt after a flight from Cambodia, Mrs Clinton and her staff didn't know what time it was.

BlackBerrys automatically reset their times to what should have been Cairo time, except it wasn't, so the staff set their clocks to Sarajevo time. Several hours later, the reason for the discrepancy was discovered: Egypt opted out of daylight saving time this year.

Mrs Clinton tells anyone who asks that she won't be staying on if President Barack Obama wins a second term - not surprising, given that only one secretary of state has served more than four years since the 1970s. And after a bruising fight with Mrs Obama for the 2008 Democratic presidential nomination, she likes to say she won't be returning to the political stage.

But with her popularity at an all-time high and the Democrats in likely need of a 2016 candidate regardless of whether Mr Obama is re-elected, there is widespread speculation that she would find a second stab at becoming first female president irresistible.

First, though, she'll need a nap.