THE JUNTA in Warsaw now suggests that the economic restrictions announced by President Reagan, far from inducing the regime to liberalize, will lead to greater hardship and unrest and an extension of martial law and will force Poland to turn even more away from the West and toward Moscow. This is being said "privately" to Western correspondents and allowed to pass out of the country uncensored. It amounts to a deliberate effort to influence the continuing American debate over whether, in dealing with Communist governments, it is better to deal cards of accommodation to the local "doves" or, by being tough, to show the local "hawks" that their hard line doesn't pay.

It is an unending and perhaps an unendable argument. The circumstances are always different. What is necessary now, however, is to deal with the existing Polish circumstances. As long as the Jaruzelski government's hold and style remain to an extent uncertain, it makes sense to give the regime an incentive to take the more moderate path. That might not work everywhere. It might not make the difference in Poland. But certainly Americans should not be intimidated by a contention--the contention that American pressure will merely strengthen Warsaw's hawks--that is at best dubious and at worst phony. To become Gen. Jaruzelski's unquestioning quartermaster will not do.

Naturally, Poland's military rulers, and their Soviet patrons, are distressed by sanctions. They would prefer to have the United States help rebuild socialism Soviet-style in Warsaw. They are playing, as well, to the strong American feeling and constituency for offering humanitarian aid. President Reagan is permitting private groups to continue shipping food to the "suffering Polish people," even as official shipments are suspended pending "absolute assurances ... that every bit of food provided by America goes to the Polish people--not to their oppressors."

The passage of time and the spectacle of distress in Poland may yet erode that distinction. It is in any event somewhat artificial. Food given to good people makes it easier for a bad government to rule them; food withheld from a bad government leaves good people hungry. But the principle of keeping faith with the Polish people is sound, even if its application is inevitably ragged. That is where the focus must be kept.

Sovereign governments do not casually allow foreigners to monitor distribution of food through humanitarian channels, let alone through commercial ones. Just as the Soviets said when the Hoover relief mission was organized 60 years ago, the Poles will say now that the United States wishes to use food as a political lever. But there should be no apologizing for an honest intent to restore, in this critical period, some measure of Polish democracy and reform. The Polish government's intent to use food-- American food--as a tool of its own is not only political but base.

The Polish authorities are preparing the ground to blame the United States, if it continues to impose conditions on food deliveries and other economic transactions, for Poland's distress. This is a lie. Poland's distress, economic and political, has a big red label on it: "Made in Moscow." The Polish people indicated, by joining and supporting Solidarity, that they understand that perfectly.

The steps the junta has taken to paralyze Solidarity have gone far to paralyze the economy. The Polish government cannot maintain this degree of repression indefinitely, unless it is prepared to let the whole country collapse. It should not be the United States that lets the Warsaw authorities off the hook.