Clinton weathers job’s long flights

Flying more than 22,000 miles in a week filled with dozens of official meetings, public events and media interviews didn’t seem to have taken a toll on Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton during her much-publicized trip to Asia. How does she do it?

I’ve been asked the same question about three of Mrs. Clinton’s predecessors I’ve traveled with — Condoleezza Rice, Colin L. Powell and Madeleine K. Albright. My answer is always the same, but it’s not the queen-size pullout sofa in their plane’s private cabin, though having a real bed in the air certainly helps.

In air with Clinton on first trip abroad

Have you ever wondered what it’s like traveling with the secretary of state around the world? Although I’ve been doing it for more than eight years, I’ve resisted frequent suggestions by friends and colleagues to write about it.

Now I’ve found an excuse. There is a new secretary — Hillary Rodham Clinton no less — and she has just completed her first overseas trip since taking office. So it’s time to step back from what has become a routine for us in the press corps and try to look at it through a fresh pair of eyes. The State Department usually gives us 13 seats on the secretary’s plane, but this time we got three more, to accommodate the bigger interest in Mrs. Clinton’s maiden voyage to Asia.

Press ready for Obama, Clinton travel

The arrival of a new administration in Washington signifies different things to different people, and for some of us it means that we’ll have new travel companions for the next four years. It looks like we in the diplomatic press corps will be sharing a plane with Hillary Rodham Clinton.

People often roll their eyes when I tell them that traveling around the world with the secretary of state is not that glamorous, but the waning months of an administration are a case in point. Reporters are happiest when they cover good stories, and it has been a while since a trip by Condoleezza Rice, President Bush’s chief diplomat — or by Mr. Bush, for that matter — created real excitement among the press corps.

Political punch in a package of charm

Condoleezza Rice has rarely heard a question she doesn’t know how to answer, from queries about her tumultuous childhood in segregated Alabama to her success in the male world of superpower politics, nuclear weapons and arms control.

She meets me with the friendly smile and easy hospitality of a west-coaster, defying the image of someone anointed by Washington insiders to become the most powerful woman in the world in a year. The chief foreign policy adviser to Republican presidential candidate George W. Bush, Rice is being tipped as a likely secretary of state or national security adviser should Bush win the White House.

As huge a task as this sounds, Rice’s own life story has the word “amazing” written all over it. At 45, she has been the first black woman in just about any job she’s taken on: from special assistant for national security affairs to President George Bush when she was only 34, to provost of California’s prestigious Stanford University (the Harvard of the west coast) where she managed a budget of nearly $2bn…

Albright’s final bow

Madeleine Albright is almost shouting. She can’t hear me any more, she says. The noise on her aircraft has, indeed, become more deafening; but she also seems to be deliberately avoiding my question, and with good reason. This very moment is probably her happiest as secretary of state because of “the most important thing that has happened” during her nearly four-year tenure.

She has just received news about the Belgrade revolution and the ousting of Yugoslav president Slobodan Milosevic, and here I am, asking how she feels about having to leave office in three months. We’ve just spent a 30-hour day, having saved six hours by flying east-west from Egypt to Washington, and she says that’s exactly what she intends to continue doing for the rest of her term — “working every minute and extending the days”…