OF GREECE Secretary of State Dean Acheson said in 1947: "It was necessary to interfere in their internal affairs in order to get them straightened out." In that period American policy was of course patronizing and not exactly overanxious about Greek sovereignty and Greek sensibilities. Fortunately, that wasn't all. The policy succeeded: it did more or less "straighten Greece out." The nature of the threat to Greece after World War II is still debated, but Greece did emerge as a working democracy--not always a smoothly working democracy but a place where, most years, the Greek people could decide how they were governed.

Recently, in a sense vindicating Dean Acheson's policy, they threw out the party associated with the American connection over the years and installed the socialist party, which in effect campaigned against the attitude represented by Dean Acheson's comment. Its leader, Andreas Papandreou, said he would plunge first into urgent domestic concerns, but he is now deep into foreign policy. He announced the other day that, unilaterally, he wishes to remove American nuclear weapons. He also said that, by negotiation, he intends to set a timetable to remove the American military bases and to take Greece out of the integrated military command of NATO. It's important here that he stresses negotiating, since this puts bureaucrats into the process and slows things down. But a possible further diminution of the American presence in the eastern Mediterranean is surely possible.

The Reagan administration is no less nationalistic in its way than Mr. Papandreou's is in his, and it will not be easy for it to keep cool. That appears to be its intention, however, and it's the only way to go. Greeks have to work out of their system the resentment many of them still feel at being taken in hand by the Americans after the war and at having their democracy suspended by colonels in the 1970s. Mr. Papandreou is frank to acknowledge that his country is a Balkan and Mediterranean place as well as a Western one. Though the West may have been thinking of Soviet communism when it brought Greece into NATO, Greece never had Turkey far from mind. Mr. Papandreou's grievance against NATO now is that the Alliance, meaning the United States, neither guarantees Greece's borders with Turkey (it was never meant to) nor ends the Turkish military occupation in Cyprus (too hard).

Though we hesitate to put an anti-American tag on Mr. Papandreou, or on Greeks in general, a policy that will sound anti-American to many American ears can now be expected out of Athens. It's a good time for Americans to be patient while Greeks straighten themselves out.