President Suharto of Indonesia said what every national leader ought to be able to say when a new United States ambassador to his country is announced: that it was a ''great honor'' for the appointee to be a highly experienced diplomat. Certainly John Holdridge fits such a job description, which this page suggested yesterday in urging a prompt end to the scandalously long vacancy in the post of US envoy to Indonesia. For once it was almost a pleasure to be scooped, as President Reagan announced the appointment the night before, after we had gone to press.
Mr. Holdridge has spent more than three decades in Far Eastern diplomacy, including assisting Henry Kissinger in the Nixon administration's opening to China. Taiwan advocate Jesse Helms cast the lone vote against him last year when the Senate Foreign Relations Committee approved him for his present position as assistant secretary of state for East Asian and Pacific affairs.
Senator Helms may prefer Mr. Holdridge far away in Indonesia. Secretary of State Shultz may prefer to make his own appointment to the assistant secretaryship anyway. But Mr. Holdridge's shift should not be seized on to replace him in Washington with a more ideological or less professionally grounded choice. Nor should the move be seen more as a step down for the superbly qualified Mr. Holdridge than, as President Suharto implied, a step up for Indonesia in relations with the US.