With a president who has little interest and no expertise in foreign affairs, the real story of international brokering is likely to be found at lower echelons. Time diplomatic correspondent Talbott (Endgame: The Inside Story of Salt II) found this to be the case with the Reagan Administration's negotiations on Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) and Strategic Arms Reductions Talks (START--Reagan's rechristening of SALT). The story, in fact, goes down to two assistant secretaries: Richard Perle, the Defense Department's foreign policy watchdog, and Richard Burt, the State Department's defense watchdog. In the INF negotiations, Perle was chiefly responsible for persuading Reagan to make the ""zero-option"" proposal--calling for the removal of all Soviet intermediate-range missiles, in exchange for cancellation of US deployment of cruise and Pershing II missiles--a nonnegotiable proposal. Perle and his boss, Caspar Weinberger, kept information from Reagan that threw into doubt the military usefulness of Pershing II missiles. Perle reasoned that the proposal would be summarily dismissed by the Soviets, thus scuttling the INF talks altogether, which was his plan. Burt was no more convinced than Perle that the talks had any value, but he wanted them to continue for the sake of US-European relations. Perle won the first round as negotiator Paul Nitze's informal agreement with his Soviet counterpart was shot down in Washington. But when Burt's side started gaining ground in the face of European pressure for flexibility, Perle showed that he cared more about undermining the talks than about the deployment (he was focused on strategic weapons instead)--and came to support both no deployment and no negotiated deal. START, meanwhile, was a victim of administration fractiousness from the beginning. But here, in contrast to the dignified and respected leadership of Nitze in the INF negotiations, there was the added burden of negotiator Edward Rowney, whose attributes were entirely negative: ""[Rowney's] ponderous style made staff meetings an ordeal. His efforts at bonhomie often came across as buffoonery, and he had a knack for making everyone else feel foolish when he made a fool out of himself."" The latter point was brought home when, at a birthday party for one of the staff secretaries, Rowney pulled out a harmonica and encouraged everyone to join in singing what he called ""the arms control theme song,"" which turned out to be ""I'm Forever Blowing Bubbles."" The backroom bickering and petty lack of seriousness about arms reductions underlies the Reagan administration's paralysis on this issue. Talbott lays it all frighteningly before us.