The ayatollah's extremist politics reverberate around a world that has not found a way to deal effectively with Khomeini's violence and its own competing political interests.
In New York, the U.N. Security Council unanimously passes yet another resolution calling for an end to the Iran-Iraq war (a resolution that was rejected by Iran even before it was passed).
In the Persian Gulf, American, Soviet, British and French ships accompany ''their'' tankers. In Lebanon, 3,500 Hezbollah chant ''Terrorism is the only solution,'' announce a holy war and threaten to kill two French hostages.
In Bonn, German Foreign Minister Hans-Dietrich Genscher busily plans the visit of Iranian Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Velayati, while in Moscow, Andrei Gromyko and Eduard Shevardnadze converse extensively with Iran's deputy foreign minister.
In Rome, the Italian government (which has the best relations with Tehran of any Western government) agrees to represent French interests after France breaks diplomatic relations with Tehran. In Paris, the Iranian Embassy is so heavily guarded it has become a tourist attraction in a nation where attention is riveted on efforts to secure the release of French diplomats already effectively held hostage in Tehran.
Meanwhile, in Washington, the U.S. Congress and media continue to portray American dealings with Iran as a unique failure of judgment on the part of the Reagan administration.
Not since Adolf Hitler has one prophet of violence been the center of so much concern and activity. And never before have the global complexities of Gulf politics been more befuddling. Some of these complexities are especially interesting.
Consider the U.N. Security Council resolution. In spite of its wide publicity, this resolution does not differ in important respects from previous Council resolutions concerning the Iran-Iraq war. The promise to consider additional measures to implement the resolution does not mean much.
It is extremely doubtful that the Soviet Union or China -- both of whom have veto power in the council -- would agree to impose sanctions to enforce the resolution. China not only supplies ''Silkworm'' missiles to Iran, it has long been a major arms supplier to the ayatollah's forces. And the Soviet Union's relations with Tehran have improved steadily. Where in 1980 the ayatollah referred to the United States and the U.S.S.R. as ''two Satans,'' Iran's relations with the Soviets are today much better than its relations with the Americans.
At the very time the resolution was being adopted in New York, Iran's deputy foreign minister was in Moscow to discuss the possible transport of Iranian oil through the North Sea. It is widely understood in Europe that the Iran-Iraq war has permitted the Soviets to expand their presence, influence and diplomatic relations with the countries of the Gulf.
No one should imagine that Soviet assent to the resolution signifies a commitment to stronger action. The Soviets have too much interest in their own power position in the Gulf to give priority to a disinterested search for peace.
In this they resemble most other European nations, virtually all of which have interests in the Gulf that are more complex than the simple search for peace. West Germany and Italy have cultivated good relations with Iran. France was attempting to do the same when Iranian-sponsored terrorism made Paris a battlefield and precipitated a major conflict with French law.
Although the French effort has gone sour, the French have not tended to blame their government for trying. As one leading newspaper wrote, Prime Minister Jacques Chirac had three interests in seeking to normalize relations with Iran: the liberation of French hostages held in Lebanon; the promise of Iran's market with its 45 million inhabitants; and Iran's strategic importance.
In fact, France's cool pursuit of its national interests with Iran has been no more successful than Ronald Reagan's inept effort.
Now, in the attempt to win release of its diplomats, the French government is pursuing tactics that are at once both ''harder'' and ''softer'' than those tried by the United States. The French government will not permit Iranian personnel to leave their premises in France as long as French diplomats are held in Tehran. Simultaneously, it is pursuing negotiations through various channels.
No country -- except possibly the Soviet Union -- seems to know how to deal with the ayatollah's violent and fanatical legions or how to protect its interests in the Gulf.
It would be very helpful if Americans remembered this as we seek an appropriate response to terrorism, war and geopolitics in the Persian Gulf.