GEORGE SHULTZ'S public debut as the designated secretary of state, at his Senate hearings, was smooth and reassuring. He came off as undogmatic, worldly, dignified. Mr. Shultz is in the postwar tradition of seasoned, international-minded businessmen-statesmen not usefully typed as either liberal or conservative. Entering the Cabinet in the second wave, moreover, he arrives as more his own man, as a nominee who is doing something for the president rather than the other way around. It is hard to imagine Mr. Shultz fighting for, or having to fight for, the little perks.

Mr. Shultz's assertion that the Lebanon crisis proves the urgency of addressing the "legitimate needs" of the Palestinian people drew the most attention. We found him right on the mark, especially in advising the PLO to get off its "guerrilla kick" and in criticizing Israel's settlements and political expulsions in the West Bank. He said what he surely believes, and what he as a figure suspected by some of a pro-Arab tilt had to say, to show his fidelity to Israel's well-being. He was also unapologetically and correctly generous in his appraisal of the American interest in good relations with the Arabs.

Mr. Shultz's corporate connection came in for some close scrutiny. He easily disposed of any suggestion of a mean financial conflict of interest or political bias on account of his service as president of the Bechtel Group, a huge international construction firm. Obviously, however, his business experience has helped shape his world view. It has inclined him to find common ground with all sorts of countries, not excluding Bechtel's Arab clients. It has disinclined him in principle to use trade and investment as leverage in political disputes. Without heavy breathing, he justified Mr. Reagan's Soviet sanctions by citing specific Kremlin depredations in Poland, while leaving the clear impression he would not do much more of that sort of thing. Mr. Shultz's business exposure, not to speak of his overall economic expertise, cannot fail to add a dimension that has been largely missing from the secretarial perspective in recent decades.

His testimony showed firmness, but also the expected unfamiliarity of an outsider, in military and arms control matters related to the Soviet Union. This need not be crippling: for now, Mr. Shultz can coast on the initiatives already launched by, among others, his predecessor. In time, however, he will need to qualify himself to assert the diplomatic and departmental interest in the debates that shape American policy on the great issues of war and peace in the nuclear age. We are hopeful that, here as elsewhere, Mr. Shultz will do the job. He deserves prompt confirmation.