GETTING DIZZY from the swirl of statements on arms control coming out of the White House?
That may well be the idea.
We're all supposed to be slightly befuddled until President Reagan decides what to do.
Only one thing is clear at this writing: The president wants a summit. So, it appears, does Mikhail Gorbachev. So what's the hangup? Well, it seems that the president wants a date for the meeting, while the general secretary wants an agenda -- he apparently does not wish to go back to the Kremlin empty-handed again.
But with an election coming up, the president wants to keep the summit pot boiling.
What better way to do so than to announce that we will send a delegation to Geneva, at the request of the Soviets, to discuss the SALT II treaty, which, of course, we have declared "obsolete," "behind us" and "no longer in existence" because of alleged Soviet violations.
The president's decision that he would no longer abide by the unratified treaty -- which would have expired by now if it had been ratified -- ignited a protest in Congress and in Europe. This unexpected reaction so rattled the president that he subsequently declared that the decision had not been made -- a bewildering statement that had to be clarified by his aides.
The Soviets capitalized on the confusion by calling for a special meeting of the U.S.-Soviet Standing Consultative Commission. The president belatedly took them up on it. He is sending a delegation headed by the commission's U.S. representative, retired general Richard Ellis, who by all accounts could have reached compromises on the problem of Soviet violations if he had been allowed to negotiate in the first place instead of merely registering complaints. Ellis has been bracketed by aides handpicked by administration hardliners.
Presumably, his instructions will be so tightly drawn that there will be no danger of a recurrence of the embarrassing performance of another administration negotiator, Philip C. Habib, a veteran diplomat who on being told to seek a peaceful solution in Nicaragua came so dangerously close that he had to be repudiated by the administration.
While people were trying to decipher the baffling news about the discussion of the dead treaty, another public relations crisis was generated by Soviet Foreign Minister Eduard Shevardnadze. At a London press conference, he made the astonishing declaration that the U.S. was willing to discuss a nuclear test ban.
The White House gulped, cleared its throat and stammered out a clarification. We are willing to discuss the "threshhold" nuclear test ban, which has more to do with verification than testing, and we would welcome talks about the non-proliferation treaty. The one we will not discuss is the one that counts: the comprehensive nuclear test ban.
That's a no-no, out of the question because our "non-nuclear" Star Wars umbrella requires a nuclear explosion to be unfurled.
The Soviets have maddeningly observed for almost a year a self-imposed moratorium on testing. We have conducted a total of l5 tests this year.
But we have to talk about talking about test bans because a shark of a bill is lurking in the waters of the House of Representatives.
Three members have introduced a bill with sharp teeth. It would freeze all funds for testing as long as the Soviets continue to observe their test-ban.
One of the sponsors of the bill, Rep. Patricia Schroeder (D-Colo.), at a meeting of "Women for a Meaningful Summit," said the administration is getting nervous about the freeze proposal, which has picked up 100 co-signers.
If the administration can say it is deep in discussion of a test ban, the president can suggest that any move to make it the real thing "would tie his hands." That is the curious claim made during all military-buildup debates: arms control action imperils arms control talks.
The women's conference, by the way, was convened as a retort to Donald Regan's impolitic remark at on the eve of the "fireside chat" summit of last November. The president's chief of staff said that few women "understand throw-weights."
"Some will, but most women, believe me," Regan said, "would rather read the human interest stuff."
Little else emerged from the meeting, except a boost in the polls for Reagan. He found out that the American people just want to see the two talking-heads together. The subject is secondary.
Schroeder said the president wants a "travelogue," not a summit. He wants to show Gorbachev Disneyworld, escort him through a farm, introduce him to hot dogs. Gorbachev is insisting on more substantial fare.
The snow in July in Washington is falling because the administration has an overload of contradictory intentions and cross purposes.
It won't melt until September when the president has to decide whether to cross the line of death for the SALT II treaty. If he puts cruise missiles on B52s, it's the end. That may be what Gorbachev is waiting for.
Mary McGrory is a Washington Post columnist.