For Ambassador Jeane J. Kirkpatrick, the autumn winds blowing off the East River across from the U.S. mission here lately have been redolent of the heady aroma of success.

In the U.N. General Assembly, where long-suffering U.S. delegates normally see an almost unbroken chain of Third World-dominated votes against U.S. policies and interests, the United States, under Kirkpatrick's aggressive generalship, recently has won its two biggest victories in years.

First, the Assembly decisively rejected a Cuban bid for a full-scale debate on whether Puerto Rico should be set free from alleged U.S. "colonialism." Then, late last month, the same body agreed by an even more overwhelming margin to table a move to bar Israel from the Assembly by rejecting the Israeli delegation's credentials.

In both instances, the outcome was determined by the interplay of a great many personalities and factors. But the force that brought them together was the U.S. campaign waged through a combination of public muscle-flexing, including a threat to cut off U.S. funding to the world body, and quiet corridor diplomacy.

The results have touched off widespread speculation about whether the Reagan administration's tough, hit-back-when-attacked approach to the U.N.--a strategy of which Kirkpatrick is the chief architect, spokesman and straw boss--has finally made itself felt in a way that other governments, whether they like it or not, increasingly will have to compute when weighing their votes and rhetoric.

To Kirkpatrick, 55, a former Georgetown University professor, the votes on Puerto Rico and Israel are indicative of encouraging trends that could merge and change significantly the long-range direction of the United Nations.

In her view, these include more than the unequivocal leadership position staked out by the United States with the active participation of the administration's top policymakers, including most particularly her new boss, Secretary of State George P. Shultz.

She also cites the influence of the new secretary general, Javier Perez de Cuellar, whom she admires deeply for his "thoughtful concern" about arresting the U.N.'s decline into irrelevancy, and an increased determination by the more moderate nonaligned countries not to be stampeded or intimidated by radical partners into automatically backing extreme positions.

Kirkpatrick calls the phenomenon "the revolt of the moderates." And, she argued, "it gives grounds for future optimism that these trends can be brought into concert to turn the U.N. away from negative, destructive, hate-filled activities.

"It gives me hope that the United States will be able to view its participation in the U.N. as something more than a damage-control operation to limit these activities and instead work constructively with moderate governments and moderate officials to make the U.N. a truly effective force for world peace."

Her upbeat tone is in startling contrast to the situation a few months ago when the atmosphere in her 11th-floor executive suite invariably gave visitors the uncomfortable feeling that they were in a bunker under siege.

Hardly a week seemed to pass then without the press giving a blow-by-blow account of some new battle between Kirkpatrick and then secretary of state Alexander M. Haig Jr. about policy and turf. In those days, even telephone and telex messages arriving from Washington seemed to Kirkpatrick and her embattled staff like a barrage of exploding missiles aimed at eroding her authority.

The effect was to give Kirkpatrick a kind of perverse celebrity that made her position as chief U.S. delegate to the United Nations almost incidental to her symbolic value as someone behind whom the legions of Haig's ideological critics in the administration could rally.

Kirkpatrick felt that she had been cast against type in the role. Her admirers might regard her as a keeper of the flame of right-wing orthodoxy within the administration, but Kirkpatrick has never wavered from her stubborn insistence that her views are rooted in liberal traditions of the Democratic Party, where she cut her political eye-teeth as a disciple of the late Hubert H. Humphrey.

And, while many might quarrel with her definition of liberalism, Kirkpatrick argued that her advice to President Reagan should be judged not by labels of "liberal" or "conservative" but by whether they pointed to sound, workable policies to further U.S. interests.

Most of all, she contended, she wanted to be judged by her performance as U.N. ambassador. But, as recently as last June, she hinted strongly in an interview with The Washington Post that she felt she was losing the battle, that the publicity attendant on her differences with Haig had obscured her role and that the leaks about her from the State Department had undermined her ability to function effectively.

She spoke poignantly of the toll on her personal life and added: "It only makes sense to keep the job if I am reasonably persuaded that I can make a contribution to the values and causes I believe in. I won't stay beyond the point where I feel I'm no longer doing that."

At the time, it seemed a signal that Kirkpatrick was getting ready to concede defeat. But, less than a week after she spoke those disspirited words, the wheel of internal administration politics unexpectedly lurched in the other direction and Haig, rather than Kirkpatrick, became the first person to depart the Reagan Cabinet.

For Kirkpatrick, it was what one of her aides privately calls "a liberating experience, one that's made her seem as though she's 10 years younger." Of her problems with Haig, Kirkpatrick said: "It was a process over which I had no control. I felt as though I had been pulled into the vortex of a storm. I hated it, and I'm glad it's over. It was so unpleasant I'd rather just put it behind me."

She added pointedly: "The extent to which the leaks and rumors that used to be circulated about me have disappeared makes clear that they are not a necessary part of this administration and the way it conducts its business."

Much of the credit for that goes to Shultz who, in contrast to Haig's compulsive turf-protecting proclivities, has proved to be a master at working within the collegial approach to policy-making favored by the White House and has taken pains to ensure that Kirkpatrick is dealt into the process.

In the practical terms of U.N. corridor politics, other delegations are keenly aware that Kirkpatrick came out of last summer's shakeup of the U.S. policy-making machinery with increased clout and that dealing with the Reagan administration means dealing with her. The problem, many other ambassadors here say privately, is that it is not always easy.

Their attitude reflects a nostalgia for the Carter administration, regarded by many Third World countries as representing the high-water mark of American interest in U.N. affairs.

Certainly, there is a vast ideological and stylistic gulf between Carter's first U.N. ambassador, Andrew Young, who infuriated domestic conservatives by what they regarded as his excessive tolerance of anti-American radicalism, and Kirkpatrick's determination to slug it out publicly with anyone who attacks the United States or its traditional friends such as Israel.

Kirkpatrick's approach is a throwback to the strategy originated by her close friend and mentor, Daniel Patrick Moynihan. In the mid 1970s, before becoming a senator from New York, Moynihan also did a stint as a Democrat serving a Republican president as U.N. ambassador. His tenure here still is remembered vividly for his zeal in not letting any criticism of the United States pass unchallenged.

In fact, Kirkpatrick acknowledges that her affinity with such figures as Moynihan and Sen. Henry M. Jackson (D-Wash.)--"both old friends who think very much as I do and with whom I agree about most things"--is central to understanding her view of what the United States should be trying to do at the United Nations.

In accordance with the current fashion among political theorists, all three have been tagged, with varying degrees of accuracy, as "neoconservatives" or, as one writer has put it, as "liberals who have reexamined liberalism and found it wanting."

Essentially, this is a reference to Democrats who were schooled in liberal ideas expounded in the 1940s and 1950s by men such as Humphrey and who, over the last decade, have become increasingly disenchanted by the direction of their party.

They are people who feel that causes for which they once fought, such as an end to religious and racial quotas, were shoved aside by "affirmative action" programs and that such bulwarks of their foreign policy ideals as support for Israel were being questioned in terms that seemed to echo the worst extremes of Third World radicalism.

Some, like Moynihan and Jackson, have stayed within the Democratic Party fold as isolated, but entrenched, fighters for a return to the old ways. Others, like Kirkpatrick, looked elsewhere for a more compatible environment and found it in the Reagan camp.

She made the transition largely on the basis of a 1979 Commentary magazine article, later expanded into a book and called "Dictatorships and Double Standards." It brought her to Reagan's attention and also sketched the outlines of the reputation that has dogged her throughout her 22 months at the United Nations.

In it, she argued that the high-profile human rights policy of the Carter administration had been counterproductive and that Washington should be more tolerant of dictators, particularly in Latin America, friendly to the United States. She wrote:

"Only intellectual fashion and the tyranny of Right/Left thinking prevent intelligent men of good will from perceiving the facts that traditional authoritarian governments are less repressive than revolutionary autocracies . . . and that they are more compatible with U.S. interests."

The effect was to mark her, in the eyes of suspicious U.N. delegates, as a single-track ideologue so obsessed with the communist menace that she is willing to overlook the worst excesses of dictators who cloak repression in bows to anti-communism.

In reality, though, the ideas she was expounding are not nearly as simplistic as they appear in the shorthand version. The article had its genesis in her research at Georgetown into how the United States can help democracy take hold in developing countries.

She chose Carter's human rights policy as a standard of measurement and concluded that it had failed because it tried to force rapid change on disparate societies without taking into account their history, traditions and special development problems.

Even today, Kirkpatrick professes bewilderment at the way in which her distinction between "authoritarian" and "totalitarian" governments was seized upon by Reagan's people as a justification for their policies and by the president's critics as a confirmation of the administration's inherent inhumanity.

"It's not a new or original concept," she pointed out. "Political scientists have been using it for years to draw the distinction between traditional dictatorships and ideological phenomena like Nazi Germany. I never said I was a defender of authoritarian regimes. What I said is that some are worse than others.

"And I criticized the Carter human rights policy for only one thing--that it didn't work. I believe the United States should have a human rights policy. But I also believe it should be realistic and capable of achieving its aims."

That, she adds, is an attitude that can be enlarged to cover the way she feels about the United Nations--"that it should be realistic and capable of achieving its aims." And, Kirkpatrick stresses, it is the message she preaches constantly, whether within internal administration councils or in dealings with other delegations here.

Reviews are mixed on whether she is getting the message across. While Kirkpatrick seems unlikely to be rated highly in any popularity poll by her fellow ambassadors, one does find an almost grudging admission that she is much better than most of them originally expected her to be.

If there is a consensus, it is the feeling that in an administration with a gut instinct to be suspicious of the United Nations, Kirkpatrick is probably the best advocate that the institution is likely to find in the Reagan Cabinet.

"When I took this job, my staff and I adopted a motto that says, 'We believe in the U.N.,' " she noted. "There are other things I believe in deeply as well -- in freedom, in free institutions and in free people.

"I am encouraged by the recent trends here that these beliefs can be made synonymous in fact as well as in theory. I can't make it an open-ended commitment, but while I am able, I want to do what I can to help that process along."