The best efforts of El Salvador's leftist guerrillas to present the incoming Reagan administration with the fait accompli of a major leftist sweep have failed.
Althoug fighting has been intense during the past 10 days, the leftist seldom gained any edge over government troops. They must face the fact that their "final offensive," aimed at dislodging the government or at least unsettling it, did not work.
The reasons are many: strategic battlefield errors, lack of effective leadership, capture of guerrilla arms caches by the government, government coopting of leftist issues such as agrarian reform, and little public support. This last factor, confirmed when a guerrilla-called general strike last week fizzled, may have been the most important.
None of this should suggest the left can be counted out. They undoubtedly will try again.
This still leaves a very fluid situation in El Salvador. Rightist forces are on the loose -- and the government so far has seemed either unwilling or powerless to curb them. Many of these rightist are former military men on forced leave from the Army.
Developments in Washington, however, as much as in San Salvador, the Salvadoran capital, could determine what happens next in the continuing struggle. It is unclear how the new Reagan administration will deal with El Salvador. The Carter administration has worked hard during the past year to prop up the military-civilian junta, which includes centrist and moderate-right military as well as the reformist Christian Democratic Party.
The Carter people saw this course as the only viable one to avert a takeover from either the left or the right. Ambassador Robert E. White has pursued this course vigorously.
In one of its final actions, the Carter administration resumed aid for communications equipment and maintenance of helicopters and trucks to the Salvadoran Army. The $5.7 million in aid will also provide arms and ammunition, the State Department said Jan. 17. Aid had been cut off after charges were made against Salvadoran security forces for complicity in the murders of three US women missionaries.
An influx of arms from Cuba and other countries to the guerrillas was a major factor in the United States decision to resume aid, the State Department said. Intelligence reports have confirmed the presnece of these arms. The department said that the government and sustained serious equipment loses during the fighting.
The US will also dispatch a number of military advisers to El Salvador. The exact number is not know, but there are at least seven. This is in addition to the military mission in the US embassy in san Salvador. The advisers are there, Washington says, for "observation." But critics of US policy suggest that the advisers are planning strategy -- and that the US is taking an increasingly active military role in the Salvadoran civil strife.
Conventional wisdom suggests that the Reagan people are likely to step up such support. It is also felt that the new administration might work for a rightist government to replace the one now in power.
But there are constraints on any change in US policy. For one thing, the government in San salvador is winning favor with many Salvadorans, some of whom were originally skeptical of its aim s.