NOW that the Europact has been signed, the question is this: Can a lame-duck President, sapped of a considerable amount of strength by the Iran-contra affair, persuade his troops to continue marching behind him as he heads toward what, for many of them, is an unpopular goal? The United States Arms Control and Disarmament Agency chief, Kenneth Adelman, foresees pact ratification but warns there is a ``33 percent chance that conservatives might beat down the agreement with killer amendments.'' Senate majority leader Robert Byrd sees a ``very good'' prospect for approval. They made these predictions at separate breakfast sessions with reporters.
Most signs point to Senate approval. Several foreign affairs experts on the GOP side - most notably Gen. Brent Scowcroft, the former national-security adviser under Gerald Ford - have come around to supporting the treaty, because it would be so harmful to US-Soviet relations now to have the Senate reject it. General Scowcroft is concerned that the pact leaves the Soviets with a conventional-force edge in Europe.
Verification provisions, including on-site inspections, have convinced many doubters that the pact will be safeguarded against Soviet cheating. Indeed, a CBS/New York Times poll shows that even those identifying themselves as GOP conservatives now support the pact 5 to 3. The poll indicates the public as a whole backs the pact 2 to 1.
For those looking at the political side of President Reagan's summitry - which now will extend to discussion in Russia next summer of the big missiles and conventional arms - there is much to be bemused about:
Here's a President who was elected twice in great part because he was perceived to be a died-in-the-wool anticommunist who was too much on to those Soviet leaders to ever think of trusting them enough to work out an arms deal.
The President repeated his charge in the recent interview with TV anchors that the Soviet Union is still ``an evil empire.'' But everyone knew the comment was simply a sop for the conservatives. Mr. Reagan's overall observations about Mikhail Gorbachev were most friendly.
Ronald Reagan has also proved his thesis on the arms buildup: This was the route to bring the Soviets to the arms-negotiation table.
The point is hard for Reagan's liberal opponents to swallow. Such critics, writes Washington Post columnist Stephen S. Rosenfeld, ``choke on the thought that Reagan may have done something right after all.''
Most amusing, perhaps, are the accolades from those in the media who have for months been ripping Reagan apart. A lead New York Times editorial headline illustrates the sudden repentance: ``The Right Treaty, Time and President.'' A Washington Post editorial is headlined: ``A Good Summit.''
If you really like political humor, watch the presidential candidates as they try to be ``right'' in the eyes of voters on the treaty issue.
Four Republicans - Jack Kemp, Alexander Haig, Pierre duPont, and Pat Robertson - said they were adamantly opposed to the pact when the subject came up in the recent TV debate. Vice-President George Bush expressed 100 percent support, while Sen. Robert Dole hedged a bit, indicating that he might come around to voting for the agreement.
Until recently, being antitreaty seemed to be playing well for Republican candidates among conservative voters in the early primary states of Iowa and New Hampshire. But what happens now - with a still popular and trusted President pushing hard for the pact and with the indication, already, that many conservatives find the verification provisions sufficiently satisfying? Look for some of these candidates to trim back their antitreaty positions.
Also, the Democratic candidates will be fun to watch as they seek to convince the voters how they would be better than the President at dealing with the Soviets, yet at the same time having to applaud Reagan for his summitry achievements.
But the most fun comes from watching the Democrats having to give Reagan grudging credit for what they have believed was their issue: keeping the two superpowers from moving to the brink of a nuclear confrontation.
Some of those same Democrats, of course, called for a nuclear freeze a few years back. They got nowhere on that.
The President's critics have, for months, been depicting a politically feeble, administratively disengaged, rather pitiful chief executive.
Now Reagan steps up to the plate and hits a home run. For those who have been expressing elation over his blunders and problems, this must be awfully hard to take.
Godfrey Sperling Jr. is the Monitor's senior Washington columnist.