THERE IS LITTLE COMFORT in the current crisis surrounding U.S. shipments of arms to Iran, but there may be some logic.
The public will find inescapable parallels and common elements in President Reagan's debacle and that which beset President Carter. Once again, we find Iran, the Ayatollah Khomeini, the American hostages, the outraged press, the botched secret missions, the high-level recriminations and public shame. Now as then, there are all the elements of a first-class presidential blunder.But what binds the two crises together in our history is not the re- emergence of common threads but the continuing absence of a fabric of foreign policy.
Since the hardship of the Carter years, President Reagan has had a relatively easy ride on the problem of Iran, thanks largely to its debilitating war with Iraq. Although there have been suggestions that the country has served as one of several bases for the export of terrorism, Iran has largely been occupied with troubles of its own during the Reagan years.
Yet despite the welcome breather the administration has enjoyed, it has done little to formulate a policy toward a country with one of the world's strategic oil resources.
In this case, the administration has been neither subtle nor even sufficiently cynical to carry out a policy that has always been of doubtful value in the long run.
President Carter's shipments of arms to the shah down to the last days of his regime precipitated the crisis which may have helped assure the downfall of both leaders. Now, President Reagan's announcement that he is dealing with ''moderates" in Iran who may displace the ayatollah can hardly help to further the dialogue with Iran.
The administration has good reason to want to keep its arms sales secret, and it's not for the sake of any hostage deal. They are a shoddy substitute for foreign policy and should not be tolerated by Congress or the electorate.