IT IS A REMARKABLE thing that the makers of the "internal settlement" have done in Rhodesia in organizing th elections, starting today, in which blacks will elect representatives to majority-ruled "Zimbabwe-Rhodesia." True, the white-drafted constitution authorizing these elections erserves a disproportionate number of seats and range of powers to the 4 percent of the population that is white; and the guerillas of the Patriotic Front are doing their best to spoil the poll. Even so, the process will probably be fairer than that followed by any of the neighboring black governments opposed to the new state. It is hard to imagine the Patriotic Front holding elections at all. The election will mark a transformation of white minority rule into a black majority government dedicated to a policy of moderation and association with the West.

Why, then, is the United States not cheering? The new government can claim to be multiracial and democratic, but it is narrow. The considerable share of the population supporting or influenced by factions of the Patriotic Front will not be represented. The Front objects partly on grounds of principle, claiming that the new constitution masks continued white domination, and partly on grounds of politics: Its leaders would like to run the show themselves. The Salisbury group means to use the election to demonstrate its legitimacy. It will then claim the specific benefits-recognition, the lifting fo sanctions-that, it hopes, will help it to win over the guerillas or neturalize them. But election or no election, the Front obviously means to keep the war going and overthrow the government that comes to power.

There lies the dilemma for the United States. It could recognize Salisbury for being relatively democratic and pro-Western. Recognition, however, would undercut American diplomacy in black Africa and bestow a commitment of sort on a regime that many Americans find umpalatable; moreover, Americans as a whole do not seem interested Salisbury the substantial aid it will need to survive, especially if the guerillas' communist patrons increase their part in the war. In withholding support from Salisbury, as the administration is expected to do, the United States will be adding to the enormous burdens pressing in upon a fledgling state that seeks to be a friend. In supporting Salisbury, the United States would be buying into diplomatic trouble and a nasty war. Either way the administration will have an argument at home.

Many people have ideas on how the administration might have conducted its policy in the past. The escalation of the war, however, has reduced the options available now. Perhaps the best result that could be hoped for is that the Salisbury group, strengthened by the elections, will be able to draw the Patriotic Front into new talks.