Ever since the United States was enlisted irreversibly into the role of a major world power some four decades past, we have shown a tendency toward unseemly eagerness that diminishes us in the eyes of our peers. This eagerness makes it easy for them to see us as the world's foremost chump. It is that vivid image that accounts for much of the difficulty we have with our allies, namely: the petty complaints that they heave up embroidered with phony- seriousness and angst.

Having just returned from Europe, where diplomats and writers from several nations were faced with no alternative but to chat with me, I hasten to report to you that Europe is in its usual stew over us. Even in Britain there is a vague dissatisfaction with our support of them during the preliminary shouts in the South Atlantic. Is the dissatisfaction of the Europeans justified? I doubt that it is.

Under the Carter regime they grumbled. Under the Reagan regime they grumble still. After all their frowns and murmurs have been duly assayed, however, the fact remains that we have led them through a longer period of peace and prosperity than they have had at any time in the century, a century that they have rather gruesomely mucked up. Moreover, in terms of policy, they offer no alternative.

Unfortunately, our eagerness to please opens us to the Europeans' petty complaints. There are times when forebearance would make for more effective policy than the solicitude characteristic of us since the days of FDR. For one thing, it is more dignified. For another, it might encourage the kind of self-reliance and cooperation that we desire from our allies.

Yet, whether Ronald Reagan or Jimmy Carter sleeps in Lincoln's bedroom, forebearance does not seem to be a part of American foreign policy. Consider the Reagan administration's recent palpitations over Peking. The same Ronald Reagan, who in the late 1970s predicted that the normalization of relations with mainland China would conduce to Peking's dictating American policy toward Taiwan now rushes out to flatter and to placate Peking when the Chinese communists go into a snit over our sale of $60 million in spare military parts to Taiwan. Who would have expected that the man to carry out Ronald Reagan's grim prophecy would some day be Ronald Reagan himself?

Now he has sent his vice president armed with presidential letters that go very far toward accepting Peking's view of relations with Taiwan, a view envisaging the eventual surrender of the comparatively free and prosperous people of Taiwan to the tender mercies of the communist Chinese.

What made Vice President Bush's rush to Peking all the more ludicrous is that it is Peking that needs our friendship, not the other way around. And whether Peking recognizes it or not, a strong Taiwan is a useful force in the western Pacific. Peking has a very big problem. Its neighbor is the U.S.S.R., and when one lives next door to the Soviets one lives in danger. Neighbors make the Soviets irritable. Only a Finland puts their minds at ease, and 945 million Chinese can never be a Finland.

Peking's display of enormous pique over our arms sale to Taiwan is nothing for the Reagan administration to froth over. Displays of enormous pique are a prized tactic in Peking's statecraft. Next to the argument that Peking needed the symbolism of presidential letters, allow me to place the argument that America needs the symbolism of forebearance. Furthermore, China's threat to take up with the Third World if we continue to supply arms to Taiwan is absurd. It might worry Dr. Benjamin Spock or the Rev. William Sloane Coffin, but should it worry Ronald Reagan? With which mighty Third World empire will Peking form its iron axis? Ethiopia? One of the Yemens?

The State Department, of course, is full of learned diplomatists who reach for the Tums every time some foreign potentate lets out a howl and stampedes the chickens in his imperial courtyard. These are the same foreign policy sages who now predict dark days for Uncle Sam in Latin America owing to our support of Britain in the Great Sheep War. My guess is that once again they are in error. Where will the Brazilians, the Chileans, and all the other Latin Americans go for friends? Certainly they know what fate will await them in Moscow.

And this brings to mind another matter on which the nervous wrecks in our State Department might dwell. Margaret Thatcher's bold response in the South Atlantic might very well make the world a slightly less dangerous place by cooling the ardor of Third World tyrants for bellicose demonstrations. And it should remind us all that, given the way the world is today, it is most reassuring to be militarily strong and rhetorically restrained.