These are extremely delicate times for Poland. It is therefore important that the West do nothing to provoke a Soviet intervention. It is also important , concomitantly, that it do everything possible to enable the government of Edward Gierek -- now that the strikes are settled -- to stabilize the country and reform the economy without itself giving the Russians an excuse to intervene. Some measure of Western financial aid will help. So will a prudent stance on the part of American politicians and public.
We raise the issue because there are some warning signs. The usually judicious Douglas Fraser, president of the United Auto Workers, did not use very good judgment in disclosing in a television interview that the UAW had contributed some $25,000 to an international fund for the Polish workers. The grant itself was provocative, and revealing it publicly was irresonsible. It gratuitously gave the Russians an excuse to declare, as they now are doing, that money is being collected in the West and sent "to those who virtually act to undermine" socialism in Poland.
Then there is the temptation to exploit the issue for partisan political purposes. Secretary of State Edmund Muskie struck the right note when he pledged the US would refrain from any comments or acts which might complicate Poland's difficulties. President Carter has already broken that pledge by saying the US was "inspired and gratified" by the Polish workers' victory. Ronald REagan, for his part, spoke of the "American model" of labor organization favored by the Poles and pulled off something of a political coup by having the father of Polish strike leader Lech Walesa appear with him on the podium.
It may all seem good campaign strategy but it ought to be weighed for how it plays in Moscow. The Russians predictably are annoyed, accusing the US presidential contenders of interfering in Poland's internal affairs and cautioning the Polish leadership about the "consequences" of its decisions. So far there is every sign the Kremlin's irritation will remain in the realm of verbal huffing and puffing. It is not thought Soviet leaders would risk the Polish resistance which a Soviet intervention might invite. But it would seem to be wise not to push Russian annoyance too far, or to play into the hands of Poland's hardline extremists.
This is not to rule out Western expressions of admiration for the Polish workers or of commitment to such human rights as free trade unions. There need be no reticence in reminding the Russians, as one West European leader did, that a Soviet move into Poland would disavow once and for all Moscow's internationalist cry that a communist government represents the will of the people. This the Soviets would or should realize themselves. The difficulty arises when they are given to believe that the forces of opposition in Poland are not indigenous but are supported or egged on from abroad.
Nor does a policy of restraint rule out Western economic aid to Poland. There is no denying the economic mess Poland's leadership has created, and it is not surprising that West German bankers voice doubts about extending even more credit to the debt-ridden country. But a destabilized Poland is not in anyone's interest. Mr. Carter, clearly sympathetic to the sensitive position of the Gierek government, has written to European leaders proposing they consider increased help. Such aid seems justified in the interest of giving Mr. Gierek time to return the country to normal and to cope with the new circumstances.
Poland should be left with no doubt, however, that it must put its economic house in order. That, after all, is what the worker revolution was all about.