Perhaps the disappointment (for those who were disappointed) about developments when Secretary of State George Shultz was in Moscow has something to do with the fact that the Reagan administration is gazing upon the prospect of a summit with the expression of a 7-year-old gazing through the window of a candy store. Uncle Sam, who is not 7, should consider the damage done to his handsome profile by the prolonged pressing of his nose against the glass.
At the Iceland summit, Gorbachev made a last-minute attempt to link all progress (for those who consider it progress) on arms control to restraints on President Reagan's Strategic Defense Initiative. That summit had been preceded by the Daniloff debacle, which had been preceded by the murder by Soviet soldiers of Maj. Arthur Nicholson. In response to the Daniloff outrage, the administration put words in a linguistic Cuisinart and produced a pure'e of nonsense misdescribing the deal it was striking. Reagan's response to the murder of Nicholson was to say that it whetted his thirst for a summit.
A few weeks ago, Soviet soldiers again fired on U.S. soldiers. Summit season is returning.
In Iceland, and again the other day in Moscow, Mikhail Gorbachev continued his attempts to crimp the advance of SDI. These attempts reflect a subtle understanding of the sociology of a large scientific enterprise in a free society.
In a Soviet-style command economy, scientists, like everyone else, do what they are told. But American scientists will be reluctant to devote years of peak productivity to a complex collaborative enterprise when congressional support is problematic and eventual deployment is doubtful.
When the Soviet regime does not play by our rules, as in its recent double-dealing with Shultz, optimists say the regime has blundered, implying it behaves badly by mistake. But remember the axiom (Raymond Aron's) that optimism is usually the product of an intellectual error.
The great question of our day is: who -- what -- is Gorbachev? A sober appraisal is offered by James Sherr, lecturer in international relations at Oxford and author of ''Soviet Power: The Continuing Challenge.'' Gorbachev, he says, may be ''the most accomplished Leninist since Lenin'' because he is totally flexible about means, as a person totally unswerving about ends can be.
Gorbachev is advised by former ambassador Anatoliy Dobrynin, who for more than two decades lived a few blocks up 16th Street from the White House. While here, Dobrynin acquired a taste for McDonald's hamburgers and an understanding of two great changes in Western public opinion. One is that nuclear weapons no longer assure people. The other is that many people believe that the problem that brought NATO into existence -- the postwar Soviet threat -- has been solved by NATO's success in containing the Soviet Union until it became reconciled to containment. Gorbachev is being merchandised as the expression of that reconcilement.
Whether you believe Gorbachev is a deliverance or a challenge to the West depends, Sherr says, on whether you believe he is transforming the Soviet Union internally in ways that will moderate the dynamism of its external relations. Sherr is an unbeliever because the primacy and nature of the Communist Party remain unchallenged.
It has been said that where it is a duty to worship the sun it will be a crime to examine the laws of heat. In the Soviet Union, where reverence for the party is the cardinal tenet of the civic religion, everything is now negotiable -- everything except the principle that sustains the regime. The principle is that the party retains a monopoly on insight.
Sherr cites a Soviet ideologist who says that the relationship of the military to the party is that of bricks to a bricklayer. And there is no evidence of any change in the regime's meta-agenda, which is the use of military power as a tool of a policy of expanding Soviet influence. Glasnost is the policy of changing almost everything so that everything can remain the same. That is, the system must be made more efficient so it can get on with achieving its hegemonic goal.
Sherr notes that we have long experience with the Soviet policy of trying to maintain good relations with governments while undermining the political and social systems that sustain them. For many years, the undermining encompassed attempts at actual subversion and the promotion of unrest through Communist parties with mass memberships. Gorbachev represents the Soviet conclusion that it is more cost-effective to charm NATO to death.