George Shultz came alone, with no lawyers beside him and no prepared opening statement to deliver. His solitary appearance, and the solemn, blunt manner in which he testified, gave special impact to his description of the way he and his department had been deliberately isolated during the Iran-contra affair.

The secretary of state told a story of humiliation and betrayal, for himself as the president's chief foreign policy adviser and spokesman, and for his department, charged with carrying out the president's policies. It was a grim story, but one with a positive side.

After hearing so many previous witnesses claim that they had to lie to save lives, or mislead Congress and the public to protect covert operations, or bend or break laws to achieve secret but noble policy goals, Shultz's testimony was bracingly fresh and direct.

He derided the secret arms deals, saying "it galls me. Our guys . . . they got taken to the cleaners. You look at the structure of this deal -- it's pathetic that anybody would agree to anything like that. It's so lopsided. It's crazy."

He denounced other witnesses' endorsements of covert operations beyond the bounds of normal accountability and of using proceeds from the Iranian arms sales for other secret projects.

"It is totally outside of the system of government that we live by and must live by," he said emphatically. "You cannot spend funds that the Congress doesn't either authorize you to obtain or appropriate. That is what the Constitution says, and we have to stick to it. . . . We have this very difficult task of having a separation of powers that means we have to learn how to share power. Sharing power is harder, and we need to work at it harder than we do. But that's the only way. And this is not sharing power. This is not in line with what was agreed to in Philadelphia {when the U.S. Constitution was written 200 years ago}."

He also denounced the practice of dissembling and outright lying that has been documented by the Iran-contra hearings, drawing a favorable response from members of the select committees.

Shultz's testimony had a special power for a number of other reasons. He appeared refreshingly candid, and gave no sense of being unable to remember crucial events, as have most Iran-contra witnesses who testified during the last 10 weeks. His only bad moments came when he seemed to hedge somewhat about his own past role, particularly in response to a question about testimony from former national security adviser Rear Adm. John M. Poindexter that Shultz had asked not to be fully informed of the Iran arms sales once he knew he could not persuade President Reagan to stop them.

Shultz's directness and his willingness to admit that his administration had produced a diplomatic and political fiasco lent more weight to the story he told. The committee listened with rapt attention to his accounts of repeatedly attempting to warn the president and key officials about the damaging consequences of trading arms for hostages and of presenting a false account of those transactions to Congress and the American people -- and of repeatedly being rebuffed and misled by officials, most specifically Poindexter and the late director of intelligence William J. Casey.

Even more compelling was the picture of George Shultz -- a proud public servant who said he has followed one motto during his long career: "trust is the coin of the realm" -- having to admit that he had been deceived and his counsels rejected.

But he showed no self-pity. Answering a question from Senate select committee Chairman Daniel K. Inouye (D -- Hawaii) about how all the deliberate deception affecting the highest levels of the Reagan administration occurred, Shultz gave a soliloquy about democratic government and values:

"I want to send a message out around our country that public service is a very rewarding and honorable thing, and nobody has to think they need to lie and cheat in order to be a public servant or to work in foreign policy. Quite to the contrary, if you are really going to be effective over any period of time, you have to be straightforward and you have to conduct yourself in a basically honest way so people will have confidence and trust in you."

He also offered a diagnosis of what had gone wrong with his administration. The "function of gathering and analyzing intelligence" should be separated "from the function of developing and carrying out policy," he said. He made it clear he was talking about the meddling in policy of Casey, and about the secret operators who prevailed over Shultz and his department's professional diplomats.

"I believe that the operations of the government should be in the hands of accountable people," he said, specifically referring to officials elected by the public.

In a moment of poignant irony, Shultz told the committees that he didn't "want to become one of John Poindexter's compartments," a reference to the former national security adviser's stated desire to withhold information on major policy decisions and keep knowledge of them limited to a few people. In fact, of course, that is exactly what happened to Shultz.

In the end, Shultz heard himself praised for his candor, for his attempts to warn the president of the damages inherent in the secret arms-for-hostages policies, and for adhering to his own principles and three times submitting his resignation to the president.

Senate committee Vice Chairman Warren B. Rudman (R -- N.H.) told Shultz he had demonstrated that it is possible to conduct "an effective and a tough foreign policy . . . lawfully, without lying, without shredding, without withholding key information from your president, without compromising the basic trust that honorable people believe in in the conduct of government."

In a switch on previous assertions of patriotic and heroic behavior, Rudman said, "I do not believe that heroes are people who deceive their president. . . . I believe the real heroes are people who speak up to their president, make their views known and are willing to take the great personal risks."