THE REAGAN administration has set two international "democracy" programs in motion. They should not be confused. "Project Democracy" is this year's name for the United States Information Agency's perennial official effort to get in touch with foreigners through visits, publications and so forth in order to induce them to think well of the United States and, especially, of its current policies. The "Democracy Program," our concern here, is the new private-sector initiative that grew out of President Reagan's call in London last June for a program to foster "the infrastructure of democracy"--political parties, unions, media, universities and the like.

After Mr. Reagan sounded his broad theme last June, a research commission was set up to fill out the idea. That commission is called The Democracy Program; its chairman is Ambassador William E. Brock III, and on its board sit the chairmen of the two national party committees, the head of the AFL-CIO and others. This week Congress is working over its recommendation to establish a National Endowment for Democracy, an autonomous non- governmental organization meant to fund and coordinate private-sector programs to support democracy in other countries. The most intriguing of these programs would help the American political parties reach out to their democratic allies abroad.

In the best of times, many Americans harbor a deep suspicion toward any effort to sell American policies, let alone American ideas and institutions. There is a fear of intervening, of insulting the would-be beneficiaries, of committing "propaganda," of fouling things up in a variety of ways. Some of Ronald Reagan's words--and some of his appointees--have aggravated these fears, and it is right and necessary to proceed warily.

But it is even more right and necessary to proceed. The endowment the sponsors have in mind is an incremental program of long-term institution-building, conducted out in the open and run not by government officials, but rather by the American private-sector groups themselves. European political parties have long been in the business of helping their foreign compatriots. The record of effective international activity by the AFL-CIO and by many private foundations demonstrates that Americans can engage in it usefully too.