OFFICIAL Washington is in a flurry of preparation for the Mikhail and Ron show, due to take place in Geneva in November. Position papers are being drafted, fiefdoms within the bureaucracy are dueling over nuances in language, and the earls and dukes of the Department of State, the Department of Defense, and among the national-security advisers in the White House are undoubtedly girding up for the interagency combat that must take place before the final options paper goes to the President. There will be argument from the hard-liners, from the soft-liners, and from those who still do not think the President should go to Geneva.
Lest all this seems a little discouraging, take heart. It is normal operating procedure in a government as large as that of the United States. Even though time-consuming, it is inevitable, and it may even be healthy for such a diversity of viewpoints to surface.
In the end, despite all the pawing and posturing and snorting by the bureaucrats, President Reagan, listening to one or two close advisers, will decide how to tackle his summit meeting with Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev. And whatever he decides, although the meeting will be important, it is unlikely to be crucial. It will be a get-acquainted meeting, the two will be sizing each other up, and if the atmospherics are satisfactory there will probably be an announcement of further, perhaps even regularly scheduled, meetings between them. But the suggestion that the two men will sit down for a couple of hours and wrap up the problem of arms control, or Afghanistan, or Nicaragua, is far-fetched indeed.
What is new is that the Soviet Union finally has a vigorous, healthy, and clearly established leader for the President to meet. Those in the West who have been bewailing the enfeebled state of the Soviet leadership in recent years may soon be looking back at that period with nostalgia.
Mr. Gorbachev is tough, and if he is more polished than Khrushchev and lacks the addled self-preoccupation of Brezhnev, he is as single-minded in his pursuit of Soviet interests as any Soviet leader before him.
The road to the top in Moscow is littered not with nosegays but with ousted rivals. In recent days, Mr. Gorbachev has added to the political debris. The losers no longer face the midnight pistol shot, as they did in Stalin's day, but they vanish politically just the same. Out went Politburo member and rival Grigory Romanov, ejected for health reasons although seemingly in ruddy contention. Up went Andrei Gromyko, the longest-playing foreign minister in the world, into the USSR's presidency. In as foreign minister came Eduard Shevardnadze, who starts from scratch with the complex portfolio of foreign policy.
Mr. Gorbachev's refusal to accept the presidency in addition to the party leadership is no gesture of modesty. What he has done is ease Mr. Gromyko up into it, and out of the Foreign Ministry, replacing him with an inexperienced man who will rely heavily on Mr. Gorbachev's direction. In other words, Gorbachev appears to have consolidated his hold on both domestic and foreign policy.
While both the US and the USSR are ready for some more civilized interchange than has taken place in recent years, there are no indications that Mr. Gorbachev is causing Soviet foreign policy to be born again. He has had harsh words for the US, suggesting as recently as June 26 that the Soviets will walk out of the Geneva arms control talks unless the US abandons its Strategic Defense Initiative. There are no signs that Mr. Gorbachev plans to end Soviet occupation of Afghanistan; indeed, he has threatened Pakistan for providing sanctuary to Afghan refugees.
With an entrenched party apparatus behind him, and a military establishment as suspicious of change as is the Pentagon, Mr. Gorbachev is unlikely to offer up in Geneva any major breakthrough in Soviet-United States relations.
John Hughes is a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist who was assistant secretary of state from 1982 to 1984.