IN WORLD AFFAIRS the United States has gone through eras of isolation, cooperation, and confrontation. Lately, we have been in the Era of Frustration.

The days when we helped rebuild the countries of friends and former foes are today old newsreel clips. We now lag behind some of those countries in the rate of growth of productivity. We see in the U.N. dozens of new Third World countries that have not grown up to be the free democratic cooperative nations we hoped for. Many of them act as if they'd prefer that we walk on the other side of the street, and they are often on the other from us in U.N. votes.

For the past few years, we've been going through a lot of self-analysis. By now I think we'd better get off the couch and stop feeling so guilty, guilty, guilty about having gone into Vietnam that we will never, never, never raise a hand against anyone, under any circumstances.

The United States is not the policeman of the world.But we shouldn't pull down the shades and plug our ears when muggings are going on either. To those who try to present every international crisis as a choice between nuclear war and national paralysis, the correct answer is "neither of the above."

There is nothing too bellicose or overbearing about standing for freedom in the world -- and we can begin by making sure we set the best possible example at home.

What we need is a map of our place in the world that says YOU ARE HERE.