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“Rhetoric from Hillary Clinton and from the State Department and most importantly from President Obama could have been more stringent,” said Mr. Cohen, who also criticized Mrs. Clinton for “not doing enough to promote ties between the countries of Central Asia, the South Caucasus and Ukraine, Moldova and Belarus, and to encourage them to integrate more with the West.”

“The result is that we’re losing the post-Soviet states,” he said. “They’re falling back into Moscow’s orbit.”

‘Pivot to Asia’

The extent to which blame should be laid on Mrs. Clinton remains a topic of debate. Regardless of political leanings, many say waning U.S. influence in the former Soviet bloc is partly a consequence of the Obama administration’s other major foreign policy initiative: the self-described “pivot to Asia.”

China’s smaller neighbors have grown alarmed as the Middle Kingdom increasingly flexes its military muscles in territorial disputes along the oil- and gas-rich Pacific Rim.

The administration’s “pivot” has sought to counter China by growing new and deeper diplomatic ties in Southeast Asia, while quietly strengthening military-to-military relations with U.S. allies in the region.

The lifting of U.S. economic sanctions in exchange for pro-democracy political reforms in Myanmar is an oft-cited highlight of the “pivot,” and Mrs. Clinton’s role in the effort has won praise from liberal and conservative analysts alike.

“Where she has had some freedom to maneuver, it’s been in Asia and that’s where the administration has done best,” said Eliot Cohen, foreign policy adviser to vanquished Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney.

Douglas Bandow, who served as a special assistant to President Reagan, said Mrs. Clinton has “been very active in going over and meeting with leaders in the region.”

“It’s fair to put this as part of her legacy,” he said, cautioning against judging Mrs. Clinton’s overall performance without considering the historical context surrounding her reign as secretary of state.

“What we’re entering into is a world where America doesn’t run everything. The U.S. cannot dictate,” said Mr. Bandow, who is now a senior fellow specializing in foreign policy at the Cato Institute.

Directly to the people

Mrs. Clinton’s admirers say she has sought tirelessly to redefine U.S. foreign policy away from government-to-government “talks” and toward direct interaction with foreign citizenry.

This often has involved harnessing such issues as women’s rights. She has made an effort to speak before women’s groups in dozens of nations — and at last year’s Women in the World Summit in New York, she asserted that she had “made women a cornerstone of American foreign policy.”

Former State Department officials who worked closely with Mrs. Clinton say her finest moments were built on the cornerstone. The women who cheered for her in Saudi Arabia “recognized what she means as a role model for women in the world,” said Mr. Crowley, adding that Mrs. Clinton’s efforts have not been limited to women’s issues.

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