By I-Hsien Sherwood | ( | First Posted: Feb 02, 2013 07:10 PM EST

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton receives applause upon her departure from her last day in office at the State Department in Washington February 1, 2013. (Photo : Reuters)

Hillary Clinton has finally stepped down after four years as Secretary of State. What is her legacy, and what does the future hold for her?

Perhaps no current politician or bureaucrat has experienced as much of a turnaround in public opinion as Clinton.

As First Lady, both she and hre husband were vilified by their Republican opposition, accused of everything from profiteering to murder. Conservatives held her up as the epitome of liberal excess.

But public opinion began to shift after her election as senator from New York. In the 2008 presidential campaign, she garnered 18 million votes during the Democratic primaries before conceding to then Senator Barack Obama.

The two quickly mended fences, and Obama appointed her Secretary of State, a position she attacked with gusto. During her tenure, Clinton became the most traveled Secretary of State in American history, visiting 112 countries in journeys that spanned nearly a million miles.

She set up the Office of Global Women's Issues to combat war crimes against women and human trafficking. She orchestrated the establishment of diplomatic relations between the United States and Myanmar, after that country finally released democracy activist Aung San Suu Kyi.

Clinton helped broker the peace agreement between Israel and Hamas, ending the latest Gaza conflict before it could break out into a full-scale war.

She was one of the few people present in the White House Situation Room as Navy Seals carried out their assassination of Osama bin Laden.

Clinton tried to convince the Obama administration to supply and train Syrian rebels. Though that initiative ultimately fell through, her successor John Kerry may well be able to take up the cause after she laid the groundwork.

She lobbied for the United States to recognize rebels in Libya fighting the forces of Muammar Gaddafi, finally persuading the country to join with Europeans to provide aid and weapons, which led to the downfall of that long-lived authoritarian regime.

Other than Obama, Clinton is the most high-profile person in American government, and her approval ratings are second only to his. Even 40 percent of Republicans approve of the job she did as Secretary of State.

Clinton retired this week, to enjoy some much-deserved rest. She will recuperate from her tireless travels, which exacerbated her health issues this past winter, resulting in a fainting spell and a concussion that revealed a benign blood clot near her brain.

Clinton has not said whether she will run for president in 2016, but if she wants the nomination, it's hers.

After losing the nomination in 2008 to Obama, both she and husband, former President Bill Clinton, threw their weight behind him, bringing her own supporters back into the fold.

Bill Clinton became a persuasive proponent of Obama's reelection, and both presidents will likely be heavily involved in her potential campaign.

Hillary Clinton has always been a savvy politician and negotiator, traits that served her well as Secretary of State. Expect her to take her time deciding whether to devote another 12 years to public service. If she does, she will be a force to be reckoned with, both during and after 2016.

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