Col. Muammar Auddafi, the fuehrer of a Soviet client state, was, appropriately, in another one (South Yemen) when Libyan pilots of undertermined nationalty (they could have been North Korean or North Vietnamese; most of Quddafi's pilots, like his armaments, come from the Soviet empire) got Libya on the losing side of a scrap with the United States, the great Satan. But such is his international obnoxiousness that the only warm support Libya has received has been from Iran, Syria (a source of some of his pilots) and some of the Palestinian terrorists in his employ.

However, on the day of the episode, a U.S. TV network reported that although the United States says it wants Libya to moderate its behavior, an American "source," unnamed of course, doubts this will happen if the United States allows shooting incidents to develop." What is more dismal -- the fact that such people exist, or that networks insist on dredging them up? Consider the choice of the word "allows." (Television usually leaves unclear whether such choices are by the reported or the source.)

Qaddafi is a mad dog on the streets of the world, a peculiar and perhaps psychotic dictator who has funded terrorism from the Philippines to Northern Ireland. His assassination squads have roamed from Rome to North America. iHe is perpetually at odds with, and occasionally at war with, nations contiguous to his (one of which he has occupied). He was expressed his loathing for the United States rhetoricaly, and by sacking our embassy. Yet someone wonders whether the United States should have "allowed" Libya to get involved in a shooting incident?

Presumably we "allowed" this by not respecting Libya's extravagant claim to international water. Never mind that respecting that impudence would have incited even more preposterous claims. And if Qaddafi claims much more of the Mediterranean "his" water will extend into the Bay of Naples. Then the United States will "allow" unpleasantness to develop unless the United States and NATO leave Naples.

Much has been made -- or, more precisely, many have tried to make much -- of the fact that the president was not awakened earlier to be briefed about this one-minute "crisis." Crisis? Whenthe tail of a stallion whisks away a fly, the fly has a crisis, the stallion does not. But the episode over the Mediterranean can be salutary in many ways -- unless the administration is driven to defensiveness by the tone of journalistic inquiry. ("Was it really necessary to shoot back?" "Won't this make Qaddafi even more irritable?")

This episode, properly defended, will send an overdue message to the Soviet Union about U.S. willingness to use force; and to Soviet clients abut the immunities not conferred by their status; and to moderate Arab states about the vulnerability of immoderate states; and to our enemies everywhere about the stallion's hooves.

By its excessive preoccupation with domestic policy, the administration has dissipated an asset -- the healthy anxiety of our enemies. They worried that the new president would be a prickly nationalist, and an international activist. Unitl now he has had neither the inclination nor the occasion for confirming this. So explanations o the Libyan incident should not muddy the message by pretending that it was unimportant or entirely unexpected that Libya became involved in a skirmish with the United States.

The reassertion of U.S. power is incomparably the most important component of the Reagan program. He has a much clearer mandate for that than he has for his budget-cutting. The United States has been flinching from the confident (and hence has been incapable of competent) employment of its military assets since the Berlin blockade. A U.S. ship has been seized there, embassies have been sacked here and there, U.S. soldiers have been sacked hacked to death with axes in the Korean demilitarized zone. Not once did the U.S. government respond in a way calculated to deter other outrages, which were not long in coming.

So if the United States "provoked" Qaddafi by challenging his interference with freedom of the seas, let's have more such "provocations." They make the world more lawful, and hence safer.

This episode sustains my hope that the confrontation with the air traffic controllers was less significant as domestic policy than as a harbinger of foreign policy. As some foreign diplomats have approvingly sensed, the confrontation with the controllers reflected the president's bedrock determination to brook no interference, anywhere, with the U.S. government's fundamental rights of sovereignty.