The word from pollsters in Western Europe is that people there find Soviet leader Mikhail S. Gorbachev a more convincing champion of peace and arms control than President Reagan. If that is the case, Europeans need a refresher course in recent history.
The President, to be sure, has said and done plenty to deserve a hawkish image. In his first term in office, he scared Europeans out of their socks with casual comments about nuclear-war fighting. More recently he has seemed to block a possible big-power reduction in strategic nuclear arms by refusing to accept common-sense limitations on ballistic-missile defenses. The Administration's tough-talking posture in the Persian Gulf area has added to allied nervousness--although, in fairness, he has a right to ask what Europeans are prepared to do to protect their own energy supplies.
When the Europeans give Gorbachev credit for peaceful intentions, however, they are overlooking his continuation of the cruel, Soviet-launched war in Afghanistan, not to mention the Soviet-backed Vietnamese occupation of Cambodia. On arms control, the negotiations of most direct concern to Europeans are those dealing with the prospective elimination of medium- and short-range nuclear missiles from Europe. The Soviet leader does deserve a full measure of credit for helping to bring agreement near, but the fact is that he basically has accepted proposals that were made long ago by the American President.