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It was not until Secretary of State Hillary Clinton walked to the George Washington University podium last week to enthusiastic applause that I decided I had to dissociate myself from the obsequious adulation of a person responsible for so much death, suffering and destruction.
I was reminded of a spring day in Atlanta almost five years earlier when then-Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld strutted onto a similar stage to loud acclaim from another enraptured audience.
Introducing Rumsfeld on May 4, 2006, the president of the Southern Center for International Policy in Atlanta highlighted his "honesty." I had just reviewed my notes for an address I was scheduled to give that evening in Atlanta and, alas, the notes demonstrated his dishonesty.
I thought to myself, if there's an opportunity for Q & A after his speech I might try to stand and ask a question, which is what happened. I engaged in a four-minute impromptu debate with Rumsfeld on Iraq War lies, an exchange that was carried on live TV.
That experience leaped to mind on Feb. 15, as Secretary Clinton strode onstage amid similar adulation.
The fulsome praise for Clinton from GWU's president and the loud, sustained applause also brought to mind a phrase that -- as a former Soviet analyst at CIA -- I often read in Pravda. When reprinting the text of speeches by high Soviet officials, the Communist Party newspaper would regularly insert, in italicized parentheses: "Burniye applaudismenti; vce stoyat" -- Stormy applause; all rise.
With the others at Clinton's talk, I stood. I even clapped politely. But as the applause dragged on, I began to feel like a real phony. So, when the others finally sat down, I remained standing silently, motionless, with my eyes fixed narrowly on the rear of the auditorium and my back to the Secretary.
I did not expect what followed: a violent assault in full view of Secretary Clinton by what in Soviet parlance were called the "organs of state security." The rest is history, as they say. A short account of the incident can be found here.
As the video of the event shows, Secretary Clinton did not miss a beat in her speech as she called for authoritarian governments to show respect for dissent and to refrain from violence. She spoke with what seemed to be an especially chilly sang froid, as she ignored my silent witness and the violent assault that took place right in front of her.
The experience gave me personal confirmation of the impression that I had reluctantly drawn from watching her behavior and its consequences over the past decade. The incident was a kind of metaphor of the much worse violence that Secretary Clinton has coolly countenanced against others.
Again and again, Hillary Clinton -- both as a U.S. senator and as Secretary of State -- has demonstrated a nonchalant readiness to unleash the vast destructiveness of American military power. The charitable explanation, I suppose, is that she knows nothing of war from direct personal experience.
And that is also true of her husband, her colleague Robert Gates at the Defense Department, President Barack Obama, and most of the White House functionaries blithely making decisions to squander the lives and limbs of young soldiers in foreign adventures -- conflicts that even the top brass admit cannot be won with weapons.
The analogy to Vietnam is inescapable. As White House tapes from the 1960s show, President Lyndon Johnson knew that the Vietnam War could not be "won" in any meaningful way. Nonetheless, he kept throwing hundreds of thousands into the battle lest someone accuse him of being soft on communism.
I had an inside seat watching Johnson do that. And I did nothing.