The U.S. Senate is on the verge of belaboring President Bush with some exceptionally bad advice.
The advice, in the form of a bipartisan resolution expected to get overwhelming approval, is for Bush to back out of the summit meeting next Feb. 11 in Moscow with Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev.It's easy to sympathize with the senators' desire to forcibly express official American displeasure at the recent Soviet military crackdown on Lithuania.
But there are other ways for Washington to show support for the efforts of the Soviet Union's unjustly repressed republics to achieve the independence they deserve.
One of those ways is to halt the exchange of technical information between the United States and the Soviet Union. A more pointed way would be to suspend the U.S. food aid recently promised the USSR. After all, that aid is to be given not just to help the Soviet people through hard times but also to help Gorbachev in his efforts to bring a greater measure of capitalism and freedom to his country. Gorbachev won't deserve that help, however, if he is now intent on turning back the clock.
But there are limits to how far Washington can go in expressing its displeasure over Lithuania without risking a Soviet pullout from the allied coalition opposing Iraq and without halting or reversing the momentum toward more arms control agreements.
The world won't be as safe as it can and should be until the two superpowers follow up their recent pacts curbing conventional weapons and military personnel with one curbing nuclear arms and missiles. A failure on this score could eventually put far more lives at risk than those now on the line in the Persian Gulf or in the USSR's captive republics.
Besides, the Moscow summit next February could provide a way for Bush to pick up some valuable clues about Gorbachev and the Soviet Union. Just how much personal responsibility does Gorbachev bear for the crackdown on Lithuania? Did the crackdown get out of hand? Or is the Kremlin directly to blame for its excesses? Is Gorbachev still in charge? Or has the military started to exercise more power? Just how much prospect, if any, is there for continued relaxation of the restrictions on human rights behind the Iron Curtain?
Though U.S.-Soviet relations are justifiably undergoing a serious chill right now, this is still no time to bring back the Cold War. Unless other outrages occur before next February, President Bush should plan on keeping his appointment in Moscow.