Argentina is moving again toward its traditional government: rule by a single strong man. After six years of less strident personal control by Gens. Jorge Rafael Videla and Roberto Eduardo Viola, the nation is now in the hands of an Army general determined to exert a large degree of power.
Gen. Leopoldo Fortunato Galtieri's emergence late last week as president, together with his role as Army commander in chief and member of the ruling military junta, puts tremendous power in the hands of a single individual. It reminds observers of Col. Juan Domingo Peron's emergence as Argentine strong man in 1945.
That comparison may be a bit hasty and there is no evidence to suggest that General Galtieri would become a new Peron. But there is no doubt that Galtieri, as a hard-liner little interested in a return to civilian rule, is more in the mold of Argentine strong men than either Generals Videla and Viola.
Moreover, the new leader is more acceptable to the Argentine military leadership than General Viola, who served a mere eight months of a projected three-year presidency. General Viola's regime was troubled with deepening economic and political problems. Recently he began to lose the confidence of his fellow generals - and since mid-November, when he became ill and was confined to home, whatever support he had quickly evaporated.
Rumors that General Galtieri would replace General Viola have been rife for days and it was not difficult for Galtieri to nudge the President aside. But it was a delicate maneuver, for the Argentine public is tired having a stream of Army generals run the country. They long for a return to civilian rule.
Whether General Galtieri can win the public support that eluded General Viola is doubtful. However, he clearly has the all-important support of the Army and that of his fellow junta members who joined in ousting Viola Dec. 11. That is enough to assure him power.
The junta met with President Viola Dec. 11 in an effort to obtain a formal resignation and thus make the transition look harmonious. But he refused to bow out quietly, arguing that he was being forced aside for political reasons and that the public should know that. The junta finally announced Galtieri's assumption of the presidency without explanation.
Selection of General Galtieri indicates to many observers that the Argentine military leadership has no intention of returning the nation to civilian rule at any early date. The military is aware of the growing clamor for such rule, but feels that it is better qualified to lead the nation than civilians.
''Do the civilians think that we will allow them to rule at any time in the near future,'' Galtieri said last July in a session with fellow generals, ''when it is evident they cannot rule and that they are responsible for our country's problems?''
Many observers have tended to put the blame for the problems - deepening recession, 100 percent inflation, growing unemployment - on both civilians and the military.
Moreover, there is strong criticism of the military for the disappearance of at least 6,000 Argentines following its latest seizure of power in 1956. Fear of public retribution is sometimes seen as a reason the military wants to retain power.