The British are, as Margaret Thatcher says, the aggrieved party, and they are democratic and a traditional ally. But regardless of how the Falklands crisis finally works out, it seems to me painful but unavoidable to ask if Thatcher has not managed it the wrong way.

Regardless? If the guns fall silent and the dispute is taken to a table, will not her method of bringing military pressure to bear be vindicated?

Politically perhaps. But the question will linger of whether she did what had to be done or went to military excess. In any event, the issue goes to the heart of almost every political dispute in which the United States is involved and for that reason alone it needs to be closely scanned.

The British view, reflecting conventional strategy, holds that sending the fleet and all the rest had a purpose: to tighten a tourniquet of pressure and give the necessary impact to British diplomacy.

It figures. How many times over the years have we Americans been invited to accept that a nation cannot win at the conference table what it loses on the battlefield. To justify its "rearming of America," and especially the expansion of the Navy, the administration regularly suggests that diplomacy is essentially the projection of available, respected military power. Jimmy Carter, one hears, neglected this truth; Ronald Reagan knows it well.

But there is a deeper truth, I think, and it is that no single simple formula can explain the strange and unpredictable chemistry between the means of conciliation and the means of force. Far from demonstrating the efficacy of military pressure, the Falklands affair seems to me to represent yet another of those recurring crises which show not a connection but a disharmony between the projection of military power and the achievement of the intended diplomatic result.

Consider these points:

1) The decision to dispatch the fleet could not have been taken more carelessly. Thatcher and Parliament, in a patriotic fever, whooped it through on the very day after the Argentines took the islands. Scarcely a soul gave thought to what was being set in train.

2) The very fact that the fleet had sailed slowed Britain in making the compromises that it had to make as the dismal weeks went by. Had the British made their compromises on some of the central issues while the fleet was still in Portsmouth, the Manchester Guardian, a lonely but clear voice, suggests, "Mr. Haig today might have been filling out his application for a Nobel peace prize."

3) Finally the fleet had to arrive, and to start shooting, and the resultant losses had a stiffening as well as a sobering effect, on both sides.

4) Sending and using the fleet, by inflaming Argentina, diminished what might have been the quieter but more reliable pressure of the sanctions and soon cost Britain the full company of its allies.

We have a passion for "lessons" and now conduct our post mortems even before there has been a mortem. But the lessons of the fleet's precipitate dispatch seem to me to rate central attention, whatever happens now.