It's an observable fact that Fitzwater, a failed weight-watcher, is getting too big for his breeches. But this shouldn't give him a license to act that way in reference to Mikhail Gorbachev, which was how Fitzwater came off yesterday when he likened the Soviet general secretary to a "drugstore cowboy."
The remark concerned a previously "private" promise by Gorbachev that the Soviets would cease supplying arms to the government of Nicaragua.
Illogically tying in this new disclosure with recent Soviet initiatives on reduced nuclear weaponry, Fitzwater accused Gorbachev of "throwing out in a kind of drugstore cowboy fashion one arms control proposal after another."
Can you imagine the stink if Fitzwater's Soviet counterpart, Gennady Gerasimov, were to accuse George Bush of acting like a kiosk cossack? The Cold War - far from being over, as most international observers say - would be back to cube one.
A quick computer search by Daily News librarian Michael Panzer revealed that Gerasimov has never uttered such harsh words about any American leader. But then neither has Gorbachev himself.
This unilateral name-calling forces us to choose between only two possible explanations.
Fitzwater may have just popped off on his own.
Or worse yet, his juvenile rhetoric may have been prompted by a president who didn't have the sand to deliver it himself.
Either way, it reflects no credit on the White House press corps, because the duty to report such smartass remarks does not preclude the slight extra effort of asking just whose thinking they represent.
But apparently Fitzwater was allowed to blab on unchallenged, describing Moscow's recent series of disarmament initiatives as "a very strange pattern of public relations gambits" - of which the "private" promise to stop arming Nicaragua should be seen as only the latest example.
It's a pity that NBC News saw fit to transfer gutsy Andrea Mitchell from the White House beat to the halls of Congress. At least KYW's gift to the network would have had the smarts to nail Fitzwater on the glaring illogic of his own argument. Andy would have asked something eminently sensible, like so:
"Since the promise to stop arming Nicaragua was private until you brought it up, how can you call it a public relations gambit by Gorbachev?"
This would have left the deflated flack mopping his brow and wishing he could answer like so:
"Hey, gimme a break here; I'm only repeating what my boss told me to say."
Instead, Fitzwater was free to continue firing away, further belittling the previously "private" Soviet promise by pointing out how "military shipments can easily be delivered through third countries, in order to disguise their true origin."
Besides being arrogant, maybe this Fitzwater is just plain dumb. Otherwise he surely would have realized he was describing a thrice-familar scenario from our own Iran-Contra embarrassment.
But again this comes back to the complacency of the White House flack's captive, but comfortable, audience and its apparent presumption that the public is too slow-witted to wonder why obviously related questions never get asked.
One such question concerns Bush's obsession with Afghanistan. Since Soviet troops have been completely out for three months, why does the CIA continue to arm the fractious, feuding "freedom fighters," who bragged their horses' hooves would be sparking on the cobblestones of Kabul before the dust of the Soviet retreat had settled on the horizon?
But even if no one was rude enough to question Bush's contempt for the de- escalation accord reached at Geneva, wouldn't it be poetic justice to make Marlin Fitzwater explain why those U.S. arms require third-country delivery by Pakistan?