Mikhail Gorbachev's extensive new arms-control proposal has fallen like a rock to the bottom of a pool. After one splash a week ago, it disappeared from view.
Forty-two Republican senators had breakfast yesterday with the president and held a spirited discussion about taxes, budgets and the state of the union. Not a single senator raised the question of Gorbachev's amazing offer.
A great silence is heard in Europe. The Soviet leader had finally accepted the president's "zero option" on intermediate-range nuclear weapons. He suggested the elimination of all nuclear missiles from Europe.
No one has bothered to comment.
Some European leaders are too busy signing contracts for "Star Wars" research. Others, having been through the crisis of the deployment of the Pershing IIs, apparently do not wish to stir the waters.
Domestic editorial comment has focused on Gorbachev's proposal to eliminate all nuclear weapons by the year 2000. Even usually ardent arms-controllers have seized on this as proof of the "fantastic" and "grandstanding" aspects of the plan. What is he thinking of, they cluck. Does he want to leave this power in the hands of the Chinese, the French, the South Africans, the Israelis?
It was all right for President Reagan, when he started hustling Star Wars, to say that he was really about ridding the Earth of nuclear weapons. As a matter of fact, President Jimmy Carter expressed the same piety in his 1976 Inaugural speech. In neither case, no one seemed to think it "deserved the compliment of rational opposition."
But when Gorbachev joined the chorus, he was set upon. No one has seen it as a desperate embellishment from a man who probably had to fight the Politburo to make an offer the West could hardly refuse.
As for his suggestion of a test ban -- he offered to continue the unilateral moratorium -- for all the response it got, he might as well have saved his breath.
Some in the administration say that the reason for the big chill is that the officials involved need time to "digest" the offer. No such period was required in September when Gorbachev first announced the Soviet halt and invited us to participate. The offer was rejected on receipt.
Defense Secretary Caspar W. Weinberger said huffily that it was a propaganda ploy, undertaken only because the Soviets had done all the testing they needed and could safely pause. Weinberger's contention on all arms-control proposals is that, despite the expenditure of a trillion dollars, we are still disastrously far behind, even in research on space weaponry.
But no such rationalization was brought out this time. Reagan needs to test Star Wars. The "non-nuclear defense" requires the explosion of a hydrogen bomb to activate the X-ray component of the system.
Gorbachev went further than any other Soviet leader in trying to assuage U.S. fears about verification.
The response was the same: nothing.
"It's as if nothing had happened," says Rep. Thomas J. Downey (D-N.Y.).
About half of the senators who called on the president to discuss affairs of state are running for reelection. Their muteness on the new offer suggests that they don't think it will be an issue in their campaigns. The public was vastly reassured by the Reagan-Gorbachev summit and is apparently looking forward to a rerun.
It is enough for Americans, apparently, that the president has cooled his heated rhetoric -- and that he has learned to say, as he did when Gorbachev's offer startled him, that he was "grateful" for it.
How far will gratitude carry him in Geneva? One observer said that the senators did not bring up the subject because Reagan's commitment to Star Wars is so well known. Others said they were too engrossed in talk of the Gramm-Rudman-Hollings budget law. Everyone in Washington is obsessed with Gramm-Rudman. Everyone, that is, save Reagan. He is ignoring it the way he is ignoring the Soviet disarmament proposal. When the rest of Washington is haggling over school lunch programs, he is happily babbling about sending $100 million to the Nicaraguan contras, as if Gramm-Rudman were not on the books.
His people crow that dread of Star Wars brought the Soviets back to the table. But the idea of getting them there was supposedly to make a deal on arms control. But now that they have made a serious proposal, the response seems to be that more Star Wars will extract even more. Gorbachev may be at the end of his rope. The insulting response to his good offer may cause "we told you so" from the Politburo and a moratorium on any more such forthcoming propositions.