This past week saw the world's two superpowers worrying about their own neighborhoods. The Soviets were obviously in an anguish of uncertainty about how to keep control over Poland. Reagan's Washingtonians launched their first formal, official diplomatic mission as the opening part of an effort to gain more US influence in Central America, particularly in El Salvador.
Of the two efforts, the Soviet one is far more difficult. The Poles palpably want freedom from the incompetent communist government that Soviet policy has imposed upon them.
The Salvadorans may not relish more "Yankee" presence in their midst, but they have just made it clear that the majority of them are not eager to fight for a leftist regime. The big leftist guerrilla "final offensive" was launched on Jan. 10. By Jan. 19 it had lost momentum and failed. There was little sign of a popular rising.
The chances are that the Reagan administration will gain an earlier and more visible success in Central America than the Soviets can in Poland. With the possible exception of the Nicaraguan revolution, recent events in Central America and the Caribbean have given left-wing regimes a bad reputation there.
Cuban economic problems were much advertised by the flight of refugees during 1980. Also, 1980 was the year even worse economic disaster in Jamaica turned the population against its Marxist-leaning government. Others note the failure of left- wing policies in Cuba and Jamaica.
Five times during 1980 Caribbean countries went to the polls and voted against communist or leftist regimes or movements. The five were Jamaica, Antigua, St. Kitts-Nevis, St. Vincent, and Dominica.
The anti-left tide must still be running. The guerrillas in El Salvador spent the early part of 1980 shopping for weapons. By December substantial quantities poured in from various places -- Cuba, Nicaragua, Ethiopia were said to be among them. Washington accuses Moscow of being the original source or organizer.
On Jan. 10 the guerrillas launched what they billed as their "final offensive." It never succeeded in capturing any of the larger cities. Government forces launched a counteroffensive Jan. 25 and quickly took back what few small towns had been overrun. by Feb. 1 observers generally agreed that the offensive had ended in failure.
Aparently one major reason for the failure was government's land-reform policy. It seems to have cooled the ardor of the peasants for a leftist takeover.
The main problem for Reagan now is to persuade friends that the at least relatively centerist government that decreed the land reforms can in the end win and set up a respectable economic and social system. To that end the State Department's special envoy, Ambassador Lawrence Eagleburger, set out Feb. 15 for Europe. He went to Bonn, Paris, Brussels, London, and back to Bonn. He was seeking acceptance of a more active anticommunist US program for Central America and the Caribbean.
That program will encounter some hesitation among allies. The West Germans have withdrawn their ambassador from El Salvador to protest what they consider massive violations of human rights by the regime. Not everyone among Washington's allies favors President Reagan's kind of program for the area.
The biggest problem will be with the Mexicans, who tend to favor liberal and left-wing movements not only in El Salvador but also in Guatemala and Nicaragua. The Reagan administration has at least temporarily suspended aid to the leftist government in Nicaragua. Mexico supports it. If Mr. reagan wants Mexican oil, he may have to temper his views.
But the essential fact is that over the past year the left has been a declining force throughout Central America. Mr. Reagan's new policies are moving with, not against, the political current.
It is a different story for the Soviets in Eastern Europe. There the tide has been running quietly but steadily against Stalinist-type governments. Except possibly for Bulgaria, every one of them has for years been adjusting its policies away from Stalinism and toward democracy, Western relations, and political independence.
Poland has suddenly moved so spectacularly that the Kremlin cannot overlook what is happening. It cannot afford to let its Moscow's line of supply of its troops in East Europe are endangered.
The fact that the Polish crisis continues with Soviet troops mostly back in their barracks instead of being on the frontier or in Poland shows that Moscow is suffering from conflicting impulses. It cannot afford to let Poland get free. But the price for cu rbing Poland could prove high.