THE GREEK ELECTIONS, called a year early by Prime Minister Constantine Karamanlis to strengthen his hand, weakend his hand. His share of the vote fell from 54 to 42 and the previously diffuse opposition now has a strong leader, that simplifier of the left, Andreas Papandreou. The valorous Karamanlis, who restored Greek democracy in 1974, is not crippled, but his maneuvarability is crimped, perhaps most in foreign affairs, where he needs it most. It is now possible to see that his large margin of 1974 resulted from the special circumstances attending the ending of the Greek dictatorship."Normality" has meant for him a sharing of the condition of reduced executive authority common to other democracies.

It is in the eastern Mediterranean that Mr. Karamanlis's new disablity will be felt most sharply. Turkey's policy had been reduced to a low common denominator of sullen nationalism even before elections in Ankara last May droped it a notch lower. With the death of Archbishop Makarios in August, Cyprus lost the one political figure recognized to embody its national will. Now it is Greece's turn. It is hard to see how the new election results will make Athens or, for that matter, Ankara more ready either to settle their smoldering conflict over air and sea rights in the Aegean, or to negotiate the return of the Turkish-occupied part of Cyprus to the control of an elected Cypriot government. The applications of Greece and Turkey to the European Economic Community remain hung up.

The United States is left to swallow hard. American military links with Greece and Turkey are badly frayed. NATO's Balkan corner is, well, Balkanized. In both countries leftist or neutralist sentiment seems to be growing. Because of an exaggerated Greek reaction to some awkward but substantively inoffensive words spoken by the American ambassador-designate at his confirmation hearing, the Athens embassy has been vacant since last summer. Clark Clifford, the special emissary chosen by the administration to try to get something going, did not get anything going. The special favor in which Congress continues to hold Greece prevents the administration, even if it were so imprudent as to try, from pursuing its predecessor's policy of trying to sweeten up Turkey with heavy dollops of military aid.

In sum, it is a time for circling the problem, not for addressing it, and for waiting for what modest unforeseen opportunities may yet arise. That's not much of a policy, but it beats making things worse. We don't see that anyone has a better idea. We haven't.