A lot of people seem upset that Secretary of State Alexander Haig said the U.S. representative at the United Nations, Jeane J. Kirkpatrick, is to him as a company commander is to a commanding general in Haig's old military world. But Haig is right.

Put aside the fact that the two of them have been feuding publicly for most of the past year. Put aside the fact that Haig was offering any excuse he could find for the bureaucratic foul-up that had seen Kirkpatrick join the British in a veto of a U.N. Security Council resolution on the Falklands, when she was supposed to abstain.

So sorry, she said, when his revised orders reached her, five minutes after the vote. But you know how phone service is in France, where Haig and the president were busily summiting as the vote approache.

Come to find out that the president was snoozing, untroubled by his chief foreign policy advisers, as he was during last year's Libyan dogfight.

But never fear, Alexander the Great was on the case, and all would have been well, except that when he concluded that abstention was the right course of action (or inaction) for this great nation, he relayed his wisdom through the State Department bureaucracy in Washington, rather than ringing up her excellency, the ambassador, himself.

Because of the roundabout route, the message arrived too late--and there was embarrassment all around. Which Haig then compounded by saying that as the supreme commander of our foreign policy (at least during Reagan's naps) he would, of course, not think of communicating with company commander Kirkpatrick except through the corps and division chiefs back in Foggy Bottom.

For which audacity and candor he is now being pummeled, hip and thigh. For once, I think, Haig is getting a bum rap. If rank is commensurate to the intrinsic importance of the assignment, then Kirkpatrick is darn lucky to be called a captain in the diplomatic corps.

I would bet few of you know--any more than I do, without checking--the names of the U.S. ambassadors in London and Buenos Aires. But Britain and Argentina have a lot more to do with ending the Falklands fighting than does the United Nations.

That cease-fire resolution was going to be vetoed by Britain in any case, whatever Kirkpatrick's instructions. But even if it had passed, it was going to be ignored, as previous instructions from the East River headquarters had been.

How in the world did we ever get to the point that anyone believed the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations was more than a company commander? The reason is politics--pure and simple.

President Eisenhower, God bless him, rewarded his 1952 campaign manager, Henry Cabot Lodge, by making him ambassador to the U.N., after Lodge worked so hard in Ike's cause that he lost his own Senate seat to John F. Kennedy. There, Lodge got such favorable TV exposure, standing up to the Russians and all, that when Richard Nixon was looking for a way to dress up his ticket in 1960, he recruited him for vice president.

It didn't work, of course--something about all the character being in No. 2 and all the cunning in No. 1. But it set a precedent. After the election, Kennedy solved a pressing political problem of his own by naming Adlai Stevenson to the U.N. job, from which post he and his followers tried unsuccessfully to run the Democrats' foreign policy.

As an added fillip, the U.N. job was given Cabinet status, further enhancing its patronage value and further confusing the lines of command in our foreign policy.

It has been a prime patronage post and a valuable political launching pad ever since. George Bush used the job as a credential to run for president and became vice president. Pat Moynihan used it to run, successfully, for senator from New York. Arthur Goldberg used it to run, unsuccessfully, for governor of New York. Andrew Young used it to denounce half the governments in the world, including, on occasion, his own, and wound up as mayor of Atlanta.

Kirkpatrick, as far as I know, does not aspire to be mayor of Washington or anything else except, once again, a Georgetown University faculty member. Nonetheless, she has embellished the now strong tradition of seeking to make the job the fulcrum of American foreign policy.

It ain't, it can't be, and it shouldn't be. Foreign policy has to be run out of Washington by the secretary of state and (preferably when awake) the president.

The best ambassadors we have had at the U.N. have been people the public rarely glimpsed--people who had no political identities of their own and no political ambitions. Charles Yost was the model, and Don McHenry was in the same pattern. They knew they were company commanders--and they ran the company right.