In resigning as Britain's foreign secretary, Lord Carrington referred to Argentina's invasion of the Falkland Islands as a ''humiliating affront'' to his country. Yet he himself is an example of British honor and heroism that are proof against humiliation. Though news reports spoke about the end of a distinguished career, his kind of statesmanship should not be permitted to languish on an international scene that has great need of it.
Lord Carrington was probably correct in reasoning that he would be undercut as foreign minister by criticism of the government's failure to foresee and deter the invasion. But there are other roles he could play in Britain; in the European Community, which he has served with such vigor; or in any of a number of other organizations dealing with world problems.
On the immediate level, as a political casualty of Argentina's naked aggression, he displayed a forthrightness that is in the best British tradition but all too seldom seen anywhere these days. He frankly took responsibility for the conduct of policy, and for assessments of the situation that turned out to be wrong.
As for previous history, Lord Carrington also has shown qualities that ought not simply to be retired now. His wartime courage and effectiveness as a tank officer have been followed by his peacetime courage and effectiveness as a diplomat.
For example, with sovereignty such an issue in the Falkland Islands episode, it is well to remember how Lord Carrington's diplomacy reestablished British sovereignty in the Rhodesian situation a couple of years ago. He led Rhodesia away from entrenched illegitimate control. He brought warring parties together and steered them to a peaceful and independent Zimbabwe. More recently, he has been a leader in the European effort to contribute to a Mideast solution.
Lord Carrington may have invited controversy along the way, even from his opposite number in such a staunchly allied nation as the United States--Secretary Haig. But there can be little controversy about the constructiveness of Lord Carrington's intentions. This, too, is something the times can ill afford to lose.