Paul Greenberg

She noticed. Talking about Moscow's not very disguised invasion of Crimea, Hillary Clinton made the obvious comparison with Hitler's seizure of one piece of Europe after another in the 1930s:

"Now if this sounds familiar," she told a fundraising luncheon out in California, "it's what Hitler did back in the 1930s. Hitler kept saying, 'They're not being treated right. I must go and protect my people.' "

It was the same line Herr Hitler took whether he was talking about Germans in the Ruhr, in Rhineland, in Austria or the Sudetenland or Poland in turn. The parallel with Vlad the Annexer, and the justification he offers for his repeated aggression, first in Georgia and now in Crimea, is hard to deny. And to her credit, Hillary Clinton didn't.

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Having made the obvious comparison to Hitler's tactics, Ms. Clinton immediately denied she was doing any such thing: "I am not making a comparison, certainly."

My favorite part of that dubious assertion is the "certainly." It's a thing of beauty in statements like hers, a decorative fillip that adds a final touch of irony to its obvious falsity. A detail, maybe, but a crowning one. Or as a character in Gilbert and Sullivan explains when caught in a flat-out lie, it was "merely corroborative detail, intended to give artistic verisimilitude to an otherwise bald and unconvincing narrative."

But for a moment, a sliver of light had penetrated Hillary Clinton's usual fogspeak. And for that let us be grateful.

. . It's an old dodge: In Hitler's time as in ours, aggression must be described as self-defense by the aggressor. For now as then, hypocrisy remains the tribute vice pays virtue.

Even when Der Fuehrer set off the Second World War by invading Poland -- with the active and premeditated collaboration of his fellow dictator Stalin, who was eager to share the spoils -- the Nazis took pains to first stage a phony invasion of German territory (the Gleiwitz Incident) by troops wearing Polish uniforms. Just as Comrade/Gospodin Putin had his troops remove the insignias from their uniforms and convoys as they moved into Crimea. The protocol in these matters is as well and long established as the villainy of men.

The costume change didn't fool anybody, but form -- and historical precedent -- must be observed. If and when the Russians invade more of Ukraine, it's a safe bet they'll claim Ukraine invaded Russia. It's all there in the Between the Wars script from the Thirties. All today's leaders have to do is dust it off. The cast and costumes may have changed, but the plot line hasn't.

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Paul Greenberg

Pulitzer Prize-winning Paul Greenberg, one of the most respected and honored commentators in America, is the editorial page editor of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.