Andrea Mitchell: Hillary Lacked 'Leverage' As Sec'y of State: 'Very Cautious'

By Susan Jones | February 19, 2014 | 6:58am EST

Then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton arrives in Tripoli, Libay, on Oct. 18, 2011. The State Department published this photo in the Bureau of Diplomatic Security's annual report. (State Department photo)

( - As Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton "chose things that were possible for her," rather than pick fights with her political rival Barack Obama, NBC Correspondent Andrea Mitchell told MSNBC's Rachel Maddow Tuesday night.

"But she didn't have that much leverage, as high profile as she was," said Mitchell, who -- as NBC's chief foreign correspondent -- covered Clinton on many of her travels.

Maddow asked Mitchell if things have changed much at the State Department now that John Kerry has replaced Hillary Clinton.

Under Kerry, "They are much less risk-averse," Mitchell responded. She said Kerry has "pushed back more" and "been more aggressive" in dealing with a White House that wants to control foreign policy.

"Clinton chose the battles, but she was first of all very cautious about not picking a fight overtly with Barack Obama. You know, this was the team of rivals, and the fact that she had run against him, and they had been such political enemies, if you will, made it even more difficult for her to challenge him, publicly at least, on foreign policy.

"And then, the National Security Council did not give her very much running room. So she chose things that were possible for her -- women's issues and other issues of restoring respect for American foreign policy," Mitchell said.

"But she didn't have that much leverage, as high profile as she was. She was greeted as a head of state...because she was Hillary Clinton. So she has a higher profile than John Kerry.

Kerry is more willing to do, you know, the very tough slog of going back and forth between Israel and Palestine -- and what many people say is not going to be a productive mission, but he is taking some really big chances here.  

"But in both their cases, and specifically with Kerry, I think that the most important thing that he's doing is Iran. And that will be jeopardized by challenging Russia. But he last night joined other officials in the White House by really slapping at Vladimir Putin over his policy in Syria.

"So they're all connected -- and it's hard to understand how he can make progress in Iran while ignoring Putin's role in Syria, which they're no longer willing to do -- and then you've got Putin doing this in Ukraine. It is a very, very big crisis."

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