The media are wrong to play up personality clashes in the Reagan team as the source of the administration's failure to project a coherent and credible foreign policy.

The problem does not lie in who reports to whom, or in the alleged idiosyncracies or turf-consciousness of the players, or in the president's preoccupation with other matters. It lies, rather, in the deep and enduring division within the Republican Party, a division that long predates Ronald Reagan's arrival in Washington.

On the one side are the true believers-- principled anti-communist ideologues, including some non-Republicans now labeled "neo-conservatives." On the other side are the commercial and banking interests, whose philosophy was asserted with stunning candor by Citibank's Thomas Theobold: "Who knows what political system works best? All we ask is: can they pay their bills?"

The true believers, to their credit, know what political system works best, and they provide the administration with its tough anti-Soviet rhetoric. They had every reason to count the president in their camp.

But when push comes to shove, the pri>orities of business prevail, and the ideologues are shunted aside. They still write the speeches, though, which accounts for the widening gap between the president's words and his deeds.

Poland throws the problem into high relief.

Before an international audience of tens of millions, the president's speechwriters promised stronger sanctions against the Soviets if the repression in Poland were not alleviated. The repression intensified, but the bankers persuaded the president to cover Poland's debt without declaring default. Default, they warned, would disrupt the international banking system.

The Chamber of Commerce has now weighed in to protect the Siberian natural gas pipeline, which, according to Chamber President Richard Lesher, would give Western Europe "a degree of leverage over the Soviets rather than vice versa"--a fact the obtuse Russians have apparently overlooked in their eagerness to be ensnared in our web of d,etente. To cripple the pipeline and deny the Soviets hard currency earnings (with which to buy Western technology) would represent, in Lesher's shocked words, "a strategy of economic warfare."

Lesher would exempt European companies operating with U.S. licenses from the sanctions imposed by the president, lest we worsen "our already poor international reputation for commercial reliability." Pepsico Chairman Donald Kendall--who previously expressed admiration for Leonid Brezhnev's devotion to peace--agrees: "I certainly question whether the (U.S.) government should put its long arm into another sovereign country and force it to accept these sanctions."

>The long arm of multinational corporations and banking institutions is another matter. The flow of Western credits to Poland, accompanied by demands for food price hikes and other austerity measures, was perfectly permissible. So was the flow of credits, grain and technology to the Soviet Union, alleviating its economic problems and permitting the diversion of its resources into military purposes. What is objectionable is government intervention to achieve such foreign policy goals as enforced adherence to human rights agreements.

Simply put, the business of America is business--not only at home but throughout the world--and what's good for the bankers is good for the Poles. Above all, we must safeguard our reputation for "commercial reliability"--even as Lech Walesa remains imprisoned, thousands of Solidarity members huddle in concentration camps, and the church itself is threatened. So speak the Theobolds, the Leshers and the Kendalls.

>They practice a pseudo-pragmatism that perverts, even as it seems to draw upon, the American tradition. The business ethos, applied to foreign policy, favors cost-benefit analyses done on a case-by-case basis. This method obscures the large and interwoven issues that confront us.

>It is plausible to argue that calling in the Polish debt would disrupt international banking (more likely, it would embarrass the bankers by forcing them to switch loans now listed as assets into the liabilities column). It is also plausible to argue that American farmers would be hurt more than the Soviets by a grain embargo (though this assumes, and thus ensures, that we are powerless to discourage other nations from rescuing the Soviets).

>But there are questions that cannot be answered by bookkeepers. If our bankers and farmers have become hostages of the Soviet bloc--the reverse of what d,etente was supposed to accomplish--should we not move urgently to extricate ourselves from this situation, or should we continue down the road to increasing dependence? Can we extricate ourselves painlessly, or is there a price to be paid for a misbegotten policy? If we eschew "economic warfare," what kind of war do we want, and whom will we send to fight it? Or do we con- clude that we have nothing worth fight- ing for, that between totalitarianism and democracy no fundamental values are at stake--that, as Theobold suggests, political systems, like capital, are fungible?

>Without squarely facing these issues, which transcend business calculations, we will not persuade our allies of our capacity to lead. The message we are now sending to our allies, and to the Soviets, is that we are unwilling to endure sacrifice or inconvenience to restrain Soviet lawlessness. The Republican administration's foreign policy lacks cogency because the business interests it disproportionately represents constitute the soft underbelly of freedom.90:Lane Kirkland; The writer is president of the AFL- CIO.