IF YOU ARE afflicted with hopes about the arms talk that open in Geneva next week, spend a little time with Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger. He'll cure you. In fact, he'll make you think that Democratic Sen. Jeff Bingaman's somber assessment of the prospects as "somewhere between minimal and dismal" is rather rosy.
The onset of negotiations has been accompanied by a great show of high elbows and sandpaper on the part of our officials. We can only hope that our representatives in Geneva do not treat their Soviet counterparts the way people holding contrary views have been handled here. We have the sublimely petty case of the State Department officer who had New York Times reporter Leslie Gelb's picture removed from the wall of the office he once occupied. Gelb was accused of damaging national security for writing a story State did not wish to see in print.
We have Secretary of State George Shultz shouting at congressmen during hearings on Nicaragua. More recently, he went after scientists who fail to see the wonder and glory of the president's Star Wars scheme. They are not to think themselves infallible, said Shultz, who more and more acts like a kind of presidential bodyguard.
Weinberger ushered in this era of bad feeling with an attack on senators who dared to insist that the defense budget could be cut. He issued a statement through his spokesman to the effect that the economizers were seeking the weakening of America. When importuned by Sen. John Glenn (D-Ohio) to apologize, Weinberger flatly refused to do so.
No single note of conciliation or softening has been sounded on the eve of the long-awaited negotiations. The president has been beating the drums for the MX missile. He told a group of senators last Wednesday that "rejection of the Peacekeeper will knock the legs out from under the negotiating table, leaving the Soviets no conclusion but that America lacks unity and resolve."
Friendly as a porcupine, Weinberger sat down before the House Budget Committee last Thursday morning. The obliviousness of certain members to the blinding truth of the Reagan gospel that only through an arms buildup can we look for arms control was hard for him to bear.
How could he cut his budget, he asked witheringly, when he had to contend with the Soviets? Other Cabinet officers could draw up their figures and even scale them down because they are not dealing with "outside factors." Members who timidly ventured to say that we are spending a disporportionate amount on defense were crisply reminded that there is only one reason: the Soviet Union.
Geneva doesn't figure in the secretary's thinking. Arms reduction is not on his screen. Not one weapons system can be spared. His philosophy can be summed up in one word: more.
Rep. Patrick Williams (D-Mont.) made so bold as to say that freezing the defense budget might not produce the dire results that Weinberger inevitably reels off when he sees the knife.
"You can do anything you want," said Weinberger in a karate-chop tone, "but you would be crippling the real strength and progress we have made."
Another man might have been in a slightly humbler frame of mind in view of the current scandalous revelations of what the Pentagon does with the billions Weinberger always gets with it. This week we have been hearing about the country's largest defense contractor, General Dynamics. The company had charged the taxpayers for kennelling an executive's dog and for a pair of $1,125 earrings for the wife of Adm. Hyman G. Rickover.
But when Barbara Boxer, the small, intrepid Democratic representative from California dared to point out that such vital information about fraud and waste is only brought to light by her investigating colleagues, like Rep. John Dingell (D- Mich.), who has unearthed the extravagance of General Dynamics, Weinberger didn't pause.
"The facts were brought out using our own auditor's reports," he said defiantly.
Dingell calls this "a bare-faced lie -- the information was developed by the oversight committee. We got some help from Defense Department auditors, but we had to go after it ourselves."
"How come," he asks,"that a blockhead Polish lawyer from Detroit with a small staff can find these things when Weinberger, who has thousands of auditors, never notices them."
The answer seems to be that Weinberger is too busy monitoring the perfidy of the Russians to observe the highway robbery in his own department. Like the president, he thinks that the world would be a perfect place if it were not for the existence of the people with whom we are about to negotiate the future of the planet.
It's that attitude, expressed in multiple ways, that keeps so many people from holding their breath for good news from Geneva.