From out there on the right comes the Just Say No gang insisting that in the big arms control negotiations with Moscow, the Gorby-dazed Bush administration is being had. Conservative drumbeaters, advance men for a corps of would-be treaty-busting senators, are in nitpickers' heaven, and are lending the runup to the summit an undeniable liveliness.
And, granted, a useful liveliness: President Bush and Secretary of State James Baker, having chosen to play their cards close to the vest, need to be stirred to explain their policy, especially the features of a strategic arms reduction treaty (START) either not yet negotiated or not set in concrete.
The critics make two points: that the Bush administration is letting Mikhail Gorbachev divert the summit focus from the West's proper priority of a conventional-forces cut in Europe to the Kremlin's favored START, and that the Bush team has negotiated flabbily on START.
In fact, the West is making fabulous progress on Europe. The Wall is gone, the armed confrontation is gone, the threat of war is gone, socialism is gone, the armies including their nuclear arsenals are shrinking, and Germany is being reunited and knit up whole into the West. In the view from Moscow, the Soviet Union has lost all its allies in East Europe, its alliance, its historic buffer against the nation that has invaded it twice in this century, and its hard-won continental parity. Its technical base is shredded and its army is going to pieces.
All that Moscow retains in Europe are anachronistic, atomized clusters of soldiers with no strategic coherence or purpose whatever. Would it be better to see them all out promptly? Yes. Are they going to be getting out soon anyway? Inevitably. Does it matter if the Kremlin takes a bit more time to digest the immense strategic and ego changes wrought by the counterrevolution in East Europe and reform at home? No.
The president's national security adviser growls that the Soviet Union is ''stonewalling'' in Europe. This he says of a country whose acts of lopsided unilateral disarmament have stunned the world. One can guess that he, with the secretary of state and the president, is somewhat embarrassed by the spectacle of agreement with the Kremlin and is trying to get on the right side of the conservatives. The latter are picking over START and accusing the Bush administration of -- in the right's eyes, the cardinal political offense -- panting for a deal.
The charge is almost amusing. START has been in preparation or negotiation for eight years. Its numbers and terms reflect the lesser, rather unambitious arms-control possibilities (and not even all of them) that were imagined in pre-Gorbachev times. The details of these things are eminently arguable but what is not arguable is that this well-shuffled treaty lies in the part of the spectrum where unsurprising, reasonable, long-mulled tradeoffs have been made.
You can hear supposedly tough-minded strategic thinkers crying that the treaty, to take but one example, permits the Kremlin to complete its current (fifth) modernization of its killer heavy-missile force. Lighten up, fellows. The treaty halves the heavies. It permits but caps their modernization. It permits modernization, moreover, not simply of these Soviet weapons but of the three branches of the American land-air-sea nuclear ''triad.'' The right reaction to the heavies the Soviets will still have on hand is not to reject START but to go on, quickly, to START II.
Actually, what the strategic tough guys are really saying goes far beyond the details of START. Their subtext is that Gorbachev is on the ropes and therefore should be squeezed hard for every last concession. To the bolder members of this school, the possibility that Gorbachev might buckle under the pressure has to be accepted: better the wreckage of a failed Soviet Union than the cooperation of a Soviet Union struggling for national recovery.
It follows, in this beady-eyed view, that the United States should aggressively demand more freedom for Soviet individuals and nationalities, do all that its allies will let it to deny Moscow the comforts of economic cooperation, and push the military pedal and not the diplomatic pedal in places like Afghanistan and Angola.
The summit offers the Bush administration three options: to ''help'' Gorbachev by unreciprocated concessions, to negotiate in a firm but flexible way that protects the American interest and respects the Soviet interest, and to go with the conservatives and their line of the-worse-the-better. I skew the choices only a little bit. Mine is Option B.