IT'S INEVITABLE that the United States and Europe should disagree from time to time.But the present strains between them do not constitute strickly speaking, a disagreement. Instead, the Europeans have been sized by a dismaying sense that they do not know, and cannot find out, precisely where the United States wants to go. The Carter administration is evidently not doing a terribly sucessful job of explaning its sense ot if sense of its national interests to the rest of the world. Take, for example, the case of economic policy.

A stream of European visitors has been in Washington in recent weeks trying to find out exactly what the United States has in mind for the economic summit meeting scheduled for Bonn in July. At the last of those meetings, a year ago, the seven presidents and prime ministers firmly agreed to rates began to fall. It wasn't what you would call a triumph of coordinated policy, and nobody is eager to repeat that exercise. But how to avoid a repetition? The American answer was apparently not very clear - except in reiterating the standard admomonitions that certain countries, mainly Germany, must raise their growth rates.

There is , parenthetically, something of an anomaly here. No American administration has ever been as well staffed at top levels, in the field of international economic policy, as the present one. The curious thing is that those people all seem to cancel each other out, leaving actual policy just about where it was in the Ford administration.

Unable to get any very satisfactory answer to their questions, the European governments have responded sensibly by making their own decisions. The heads of the nine Commmon Market governments met a week ago in Copenhagen and devised a program of their own. It calls for, among other things, a sharp lift in growth rates over the next year. It seems quite possible that that European plan will be the base for the Bonn meeting this summer.

It is not easy to assess the United States' economic policy at the moment, since it seems to be shifting. In Congress, the campaign against inflation is picking up momentum. There are increasingly strong indications that the House might scale down severely the income-tax cut that President Carter has proposed. For the House to balk at a tax cut at any time, let alone in the spring of an elelction year, is a truly astounding change. It's happening, further, at a time when the nation's economic growth is already begining to slow down a bit. There's a certain irony here. After months of American exhortation, the Germans have now committed themselves to a fairly high growth target - just in time to see the American government begin to turn toward a preoccupation with inflation.

It is fair to argue, in the Carter administration's behalf, that the rise in European wealth and power changes the traditional relationships. The United States no longer has the kind of protective responsibility, in economic policy, that it had when Europe was poor. It is not desirable or even possible that the initiative in this alliance should come routinely from the western side of the Atlantic. But if the Atlantic economy is to work well, the governments are going to need a fairly clear idea of each other's intentions. The Carter administration does not seem to have found a way to deliver its message.