President Reagan's 10-day tour of Europe was a success but not a triumph.
Mr. Reagan clearly carried the offensive on issues of war and arms negotiation. There were speeches on peace in Rome, the moral superiority of democracy over totalitarianism in London, US fidelity to NATO in Bonn, and a renewed pledge of steadfastness against the Soviets in Berlin.
These set pieces were carefully designed to portray in Europe an emphasis Americans had already demanded of Mr. Reagan at home. That is a closer balance between the two dominant tendencies in American arms policy designed to meet the public's desire for an arms posture that is both strong and nonbellicose. A similar sense of balance came across to Europeans.
Reagan reassured the moderate center of European public opinion that he was less of a war risk than his own rhetoric earlier had made him seem. He reassured those who chose to hear him that way that he would hew close to the familiar outlines of US attitudes toward East-West detente.
But three counterthemes that persisted in Europe limited Reagan's success:
* Mass peace demonstrations in Rome, London, Paris, Bonn, and Berlin - capped by the peace rally of half a million Americans in New York City the day following his return - voiced continuing concern over Reagan arms policies. Mr. Reagan may have bought time among those wanting to be reassured. But he did not erase the sense of deadline building on both sides of the Atlantic on arms talks.
* Reagan's near-total isolation from the public in Europe, his overwhelming reliance on television and photo coverage may have succeeded in preventing untoward or embarrassing events. The trip lacked a catalytic event, such as John F. Kennedy's speech to the Berliners to win over the large crowds of doubters or make him seem ''a European.''
* Reports of limited wars in Lebanon and the Falklands took the cream off Reagan's continental news coverage. Except for the day or so of Reagan's presence in each country, the breaking war events commanded the top of news pages and newscasts in every country he visited. The Israeli invasion of Lebanon embarrassed Reagan. It reinforced the widespread unease in Europe and America that war is imminent, and that Reagan has a tolerance for limited wars on others' soil.
Comments circulated about Reagan's performance in private meetings with European leaders - for example, his unresponsiveness in answering when he could not locate the proper card to help him recall administration positions. This reinforced his reputation for being better at anecdotes and broad attitudes than at command of detail. Reagan's nodding off during his Vatican exchange of remarks with the Pope was only one indication that his tour was too long and too tightly scheduled.
Reagan sought to tour Europe meeting only with surrogate publics - either cameramen, or carefully composed audiences like the American seminarians at the Vatican. In style the Reagan trip was medieval and royalist, Europeans observed. He stayed exclusively in castles and palaces, met only with heads of state.
It may now be difficult for an American president to meet with public masses. Isolation of the modern president may have begun with the Chicago riot against Lyndon B. Johnson at the Democratic convention in 1968. Nonetheless, the Reagan administration seems uniquely committed to image and media control through the TV tube, European and American observers of Reagan agreed.
In his 1980 presidential debate with Jimmy Carter, Reagan showed an affable side on television. No such climatic event seemed to occur in Europe. The result of Reagan's man of peace mission to Europe may thus parallel his progress in the US. Reagan's arms control speeches delivered in the US since last fall gave him no uplift in his approval ratings, and his unusually high negative rating did not yield.
The consensus among accompanying journalists is that this was the most arduous, and generally most inconsiderate-of-the-press trip to date. Reagan gave no interviews with the American or other media during his 10 days abroad.