Happily contemplating another woman as the top U.S. diplomat, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said Monday she will offer advice, privately, and then get out of the way.
"She won't — and you won't — hear from me again," Rice said on the day President-elect Barack Obama named Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton to be the next secretary of state. "I will certainly not make the effort to comment on everything that is done."
Rice, in London on a farewell tour, said there's a lot to recommend the U.S. system of four-year presidential terms, and thus relatively short tours of duty for Cabinet ministers.
"You'll be a very hard act to follow," British Foreign Secretary David Miliband told her.
Rice also noted that Clinton would be the third woman among the last four people to be U.S. secretary of state. That fourth occupant of the job, Colin Powell, "was a black man, so white men are trailing pretty badly," Rice said. The third woman, Madeleine Albright, served during the administration of Clinton's husband, former President Bill Clinton.
The job is one of the most visible in the world, a distinction Rice has clearly enjoyed but also found confining.
"I am very fond of her, I think she has worked very hard on behalf of the country, I think she really comported herself well in the (Democratic presidential) campaign," Rice said of Clinton, who lost a tense nominating contest to Obama earlier this year.
Rice spoke to Clinton before she left Washington on Sunday, her spokesman said. Rice briefed Clinton on the aftermath of a terrorist rampage in India that has forced Rice to rearrange what had been planned as a low-stress European valedictory for a diplomat much better liked in European capitals than her boss.
Rice is scrapping much of the trip, including an evening in Rome, and flying to India to express direct U.S. condolences for the deaths of more than 170 people.
Obama did not announce his national security Cabinet until Monday, but Clinton had been the presumptive choice for weeks.
"She possesses an extraordinary intelligence and toughness, and a remarkable work ethic," Obama said in making it official. "She is an American of tremendous stature who will have my complete confidence, who knows many of the world's leaders, who will command respect in every capital and who will clearly have the ability to advance our interests around the world."
Clinton's nomination as secretary of state is another milestone for a former first lady who was the first to win elective office, the first to run for president herself and now the first to be chosen for a Cabinet position.
"I know that she will bring enormous energy and intellect and skill to the position," Rice told reporters in London. "Most important, I know her to be somebody who has what you need most in this job, which is a deep love for the United States of America and for its values, respect for differences that we may have with friends and allies, but always recognizing that the core of who we are as Americans unites us with very many around the world, particularly Great Britain," Rice said.
Rice's two-day London visit is almost certainly her last as secretary, and closes a circle begun with her first trip abroad shortly after taking the job in 2005. She made London her first stop on a European get-acquainted tour that was intended to turn the page on bad blood between the Bush administration and European allies angry about the 2003 invasion of Iraq.
Things did get better, and Rice cooperated with European powers on several diplomatic projects. The Bush administration counts the evolution of Kosovo into an independent nation as one success story, and cooperation with European powers on Iran another. Rice dropped the Bush administration's previous bans on negotiations with Iran in hopes of coaxing the regime to back down on its nuclear program. That hasn't worked, but Rice got points with formerly quarrelsome allies for trying.
Rice has more goodbyes Tuesday in Brussels, where she sees NATO allies. The United States has a long-standing beef with some NATO nations over reluctance to send large numbers of fighting forces to Afghanistan, but the dispute has been cordial. The same is true for an emerging difference over engagement with Russia following last summer's war with Georgia.
The United States wants to take any cooperation with Russia very slowly, and to avoid overtly military partnerships.