By Daniel Dombey in al-Asad, Iraq

If you want to see what the US’s “responsible drawdown” in Iraq looks like, come to al-Asad Air Base. Here, in a desert of white sands, amid light canvas tents and under roaring planes, Robert Gates, US defence secretary, has begun a trip to mark the end of the US combat mission in the country.

The location is symbolic. The air base is in al-Anbar province, where some of the most violent episodes of the war took place and where the Anbar awakening that preceded the US surge took place.

When Gates arrives with a group of us journalists in tow, it is not yet seven in the morning and the transition from Operation Iraqi Freedom to Operation New Dawn is just a few hours old. While we were in the air, President Barack Obama hailed the “historic moment” in only his second address from the Oval Office.

From al-Asad, at first glance, things look less dramatic. Read more

By Daniel Dombey, US diplomatic correspondent

Travelling with Hillary Clinton this past week has given me a distinctly unusual perspective on the world.

For instance: on some stops just about all you see is the inside of the presidential palace. So I can report that Argentina’s famous Casa Rosada or Pink House, from whose balcony Evita Peron made appearances before Argentina’s shirtless masses, is in a distinctly dodgy state of disrepair. Read more

By Daniel Dombey, US diplomatic correspondent

For most ordinary mortals, Hillary Clinton’s schedule in Brazil on Wednesday would be a day to recover from.

The US Secretary of State spent much of the day in Brasilia meeting the foreign minister and president. She then flew to São Paulo, where she endured an hour-long motorcade driving past residential neighbourhoods, warehouses and love hotels. The rain drummed down, brakes skidded, and intrepid Brazilian motorists tried to cut into the convoy. Read more

By Daniel Dombey, US diplomatic correspondent

There was a flash in Hillary Clinton’s eyes just now as she talked about the issue that is occupying ever more of her time as Secretary of State – Iran’s nuclear programme.

Last month the US-led campaign to increase pressure on Tehran took her to Qatar and Saudi.  Arabia, where King Abdullah welcomed her with a lavish lunch and watched a few minutes of a football match as he sat beside her wearing a frayed pair of Nike trainers. (Later on he switched his giant television to off-road truck racing.)

Iran has also been a constant concern for Clinton during her present swing through Latin America and the position of Brazil, which is currently sitting on the UN Security Council, is particularly important. Read more

By Daniel Dombey, US diplomatic correspondent

Hillary Clinton is now in the surreal city of Brasilia, with its Le Corbusier-inspired office blocks, which stack up in a line like so many giant dominoes, its teepee-like cathedral and its complete lack of human scale.

The capital, which is an officially designated Unesco World Heritage Site, is getting ready to celebrate its 50th anniversary and is showing its age. Outside its limits, the savanna seems to roll on forever, interrupted only by the satellite settlements and shantytowns where millions of workers live. Inside, we are skulking in the bowels of the foreign ministry building while Clinton is meeting the minister upstairs. Read more

By Daniel Dombey,  US diplomatic correspondent

Last night offered a glimpse of the toughness and tirelessness of Hillary Clinton. She was in Buenos Aires, where she came in a gesture of friendliness, so she could confer with President Cristina Fernández on the Argentinian’s home turf. But gestures of goodwill aren’t the same as being a pushover and after Fernandez added to what had been a long day for Clinton by talking for three hours, the secretary of state wasn’t willing to give any ground.

 Read more

By Daniel Dombey, US diplomatic correspondent

There was a certain comic opera quality to the Uruguayan presidential inauguration that Hillary Clinton attended today. Compared with neighbouring states such as Brazil and Argentina, Uruguay is a minnow, though a wealthy, well educated and sometimes idyllic one. Read more

By Daniel Dombey, US Diplomatic Correspondent

Fly into Islamabad. Offer military aid. Deny conspiracy theories. Suggest that it wouldn’t be too bad an idea for Pakistan to go after Islamist extremists more vigorously. Read more

By Daniel Dombey, US Diplomatic Correspondent

The man responsible for America’s military has come to the country at the heart of the US fight against militant Islamists – and yet he can’t talk about a key part of that struggle. Read more

By Daniel Dombey, US Diplomatic Correspondent

Ripples from events on both US coasts have reached India, where Robert Gates, America’s powerful defence secretary, is talking grand policy. Read more

By Daniel Dombey, US Diplomatic Correspondent

Another thing that strikes me about Bob Gates’ trip to India is the strategic vagueness of it all. In the map of the 21st century world, the US sees India as an indispensable partner, even if the country’s size, prospects and independent-mindedness means it will never become a full ally.

Presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush both paid extended visits to the country, a courtship that ultimately produced a civil nuclear deal between Washington and Delhi and – this is where Gates comes in – plans to intensify military co-operation.

The next big goal seems elusive, even though the US wants to encourage Delhi to become more of a counterweight to China and is keen in the extreme for India and Pakistan to cool mutual tensions (so allowing Islamabad to focus more on battling the Taliban than on its powerful neighbour). Read more

By Daniel Dombey, US Diplomatic Correspondent

I am travelling with the US defence secretary Robert Gates and a clutch of itinerant journalists to India and there’s a certain dowdy potency about the whole experience.

Gates, a CIA and White House veteran who has served some seven presidents, is a very big fish in Washington and well beyond.

His record of working for President George W. Bush – during which time he presided over the successful surge in Iraq- has given him massive clout in the Obama administration, and his support for sending 30,000 more troops may well have been decisive in the recent debate over Afghanistan.

But Gates himself is a low-key guy, who slipped into jeans as soon as he was on board the airplane and who rates his own common sense approach to problems more than any more flashy qualities. Read more