The leaders of the modern democracies will be getting better acquainted with one another, and with one another's problems, at Williamsburg in Virginia this weekend. That is undoubtedly a good thing - even if differences in conditions, interests, and embedded policies rule out startling action.
Ideally, they would all agree to coordinate their policies toward the end of protecting and nurturing the burgeoning but still delicate economic recovery most are enjoying.
But France is not enjoying the recovery. Instead it is suffering from nearly two years of overindulgence in deficit spending. Almost daily street protests at home must make it difficult for French President Francois Mitterrand to concentrate on what someone else may be saying in the dining room at Williamsburg.
France, and the other guests, agree on one thing. They want President Reagan to cut back on budget deficits in order to allow United States interest rates to come down.
But Mr. Reagan cannot cut his deficits without giving up what seems dearest of all to him - his military spending program. He finally got clearance this past week from Congress for his most expensive new weapon, the MX. He thinks it will buy him a better deal from the Soviets when he goes to talk to them someday.
There is no way he can cut the prospective American deficits in years ahead unless he will agree on less military spending. But he could do that in logic only if he could change his views about the Soviet Union. Such a change seems unlikely. He still wants the European allies to join him in economic sanctions against the Soviets even though he has just offered the Soviets more US grain.
British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher is able to be in Williamsburg in the middle of her reelection campaign only because the opposition Labour Party is running well behind in the polls. Mrs. Thatcher has bright prospects for reelection. But still, she is in the middle of a campaign and must be more interested in the latest news from home than in what others are saying at Williamsburg. She can't help remembering that Winston Churchill, at Potsdam in 1945, thought he was going to be reelected.
At Williamsburg all present can agree in principle that trade protectionism is a bad thing. But Mr. Reagan has already had to give way more than once on demands for quotas or other devices for reducing foreign imports. The recovery is still much too fragile to survive a general retreat into autarchy and protectionism.
That is precisely what the Labour Party in Britain says it will do if it does happen to defeat Mrs. Thatcher and also the new Social Democratic Party. Michael Foot, Labour Party leader, is pledged to take Britain out of the European Common Market if he wins. A British plunge into protectionism added to new austerity measures in France would break up the European part of the Western economic community.
At least those gathered at Williamsburg can see the dangers ahead. They are probably all quietly hoping that Mrs. Thatcher will still be prime minister and will continue to pursue the conservative policies that have stabilized the British economy.
In the little private conversations at Williamsburg we may assume that the others are eager to hear from Mr. Reagan what he proposes to do next about the Middle East. As matters stand this week Syria is holding out from the Lebanon settlement worked out between the US, Israel, and Lebanon. Everyone is waiting to hear what inducement the US is willing to offer to Syria to join in.
Syria's attitude would indicate that either it has no intention of coming in at all or is expecting a bigger inducement than the others have yet considered. Certainly Syria is not ready to pull its troops out of Lebanon merely because Mr. Reagan asks them to.