It is to match cynicism with cynicism when murmurs of peace are borne on the winds of war. Like the theater critic worried about his future reputation, an observer of diplomacy is safer panning an iffy show than going out on a limb to praise it. Yet sometimes it is best at least to temper judgment in behalf of seeing whether things look any different after the out-of-town tryouts. Frankly , at this writing, we are watching and waiting for the Moscow reviews.
And couldn't Mr. Brezhnev make himself look good to posterity by receiving Washington's latest signals with a modicum of good grace? He my feel rebuffed by th scant rapture with which his much-publicized troop withdrawal from Afghanistan was greeted. But, after all, it was only a fraction of the troops. Besides, there had been those reports of more troops going into Afghanistan, too , with the almost Gogolian irony of arriving in passenger planes bearing the Soviet tourist slogan in red: "Official Olympic carrier."
The Kremlin could hardly expect Mr. Carter to jump up and down and fail to note that the gesture was timed to tantalize the Venice summit. Yet it may not be coincidence that Washington followed even this presumably -- but not entirely necessarily? -- hollow gambit with a revived offer to participate in an easing of the Afghanistan crisis.
"We would be prepared to explore a transitional arrangement," said Mr. Carter in Belgrade, "to be implemented along with the prompt withdrawal of all Soviet troops from Afghanistan, for the purpose of restoring peace and tranquility to that suffering country."
True, critics are not supposed to be influenced by what other witnesses to an event may say. But maybe Chancellor Schmidt of West Germany could drop a throwaway line to conciliatory effect when he talks with Mr. Brezhnev. Maybe people in the United Nations or the Muslim world, who have been mentioned as providing a possible peacekeeping force during the Afghanistan transition, might show a little interest. Maybe Mr. Carter's loyal opposition at home, in and out of his own party, could quiet the bellicose noises that are so simple to produce and offer constructive support or silence.
Mr. Brezhnev just might get the idea that there are certain incentives to making peace as well as deterrents to widening the conflict. Better to keep talking at least, instead of taking more and more lives while the cynics shrink from daring to be wrong -- or right.