THE PITCH of battle in the Falklands lends scant encouragement to the idea that the war on the islands may stop short of total victory for the British and total defeat for the Argentines. Prime Mininster Thatcher shows not the slightest readiness to stand up to her public and say that the long-term British interest would be better served by a negotiated settlement that gave the Argentines at least a slight opportunity to retreive some pride. Whether she even believes it is a question.

In Argentina, it apparently has become impossible for any faction to suggest backing down in the face of superior British military prowess, lest it be accused of treason by the others. The Argentines are consoling themselves with the rationalization that they were not so much bested in a battle they stupidly brought upon themselves as they were tricked by a vast international conspiracy that no one will blame them for not defeating. So the fighting, and the dying, will go on.

But must the United States stand by silently while the British mop up, at no small additional cost to themselves, the Argentine defenders of Port Stanley? It is a notable feature of this war that, even as they appear to be winning, the British are increasingly fearful that they are not being properly appreciated either for their sacrifices or for the universal validity of the principles in whose names they are fighting. But it is also notable that the British have seemed surprisingly indifferent to the costs they expect thei friends to bear. We have in mind especially the escalating diplomatic costs the United States is bearing in Latin America as a result of abandoning the relatively safe position of go-between or would-be peacemaker and supporting the British effort to roll back Argentine aggression.

If this consideration does not weigh heavily on London at the moment, cannot the British see that they are going to need the Latins themselves? Who else is available to help provide the interim administration that is the only alternative to the reimposition of Britain's imperial sway -surely that is out of the question. The nearer Britain gets to victory, in short, the more it needs to shape a position that allows other Latin nations to find roles in a permanent solution. Unquestionably, this includes Argentina. The United States cannot be expected to neglect its own interests in the hemisphere after the military camaign ends.