WHAT'S TO BE done with Jean-Claude Duvalier? Baby Doc is far from a sympathetic figure. As the dictator of Haiti, he ran an unusually nasty regime in which murders by the security forces were almost commonplace. Having left his country in haste, he now has, as the police reports say, no fixed address. A long list of governments have prudently refused him permanent residence. But there is a good reason why one or another of them ought to let him in promptly.

The United States wanted Mr. Duvalier out of Haiti because it foresaw much bloodshed as he and his heavily armed supporters tried to put down the uprising that was developing. When the U.S. Air Force plane took off from Haiti in the middle of the night with Mr. Duvalier and his entourage aboard, it was providing not only him but his country with a way out of an ugly showdown in which, quite certainly, many lives would have been lost. France allowed the plane to land at Grenoble as a courtesy to the United States, but on condition that the Duvalier family leave promptly. They are still lodged in a resort hotel at Tallieres while the diplomats struggle -- unsuccessfully so far -- to find other and less temporary lodging for them. France, losing patience, says that it is sending Mr. Duvalier and his extended family to the United States today. That is not a welcome idea. If he arrives here, that ought not be the end of the trip. There needs to be a better solution.

The Duvalier case is a good example of the argument for providing refuge to a fallen dictator, however unsavory. There will be others like him -- presidents-for-life, generals and emperors who rule by the gun -- who find themselves confronted with midnight decisions whether to leave. If they can reasonably expect to find another country to let them in, that argues in favor of laying down the gun and getting on the plane. If there's no refuge, they have little alternative but to keep the gun and use it in a last desperate hope to save their regimes.

But at risk of seeming self-serving, Americans have to add quickly that Mr. Duvalier ought not come here. There have been fallen rulers -- the shah of Iran comes to mind -- with whom this country had been dealing so closely that it had an obligation to let them in. There is no obligation to Mr. Duvalier. This country has wide responsibilities to help Haiti find its way back to a better life, and the presumption of American good faith would be badly damaged in Haitians' minds if he were living here. Because Haitians speak French, France has a strong interest in developments there and similarly should not be asked to jeopardize its standing. But there are countries with no special role to play in Haiti that can afford to admit him. The government that does it will have saved lives, the next time an unsuccessful dictator walks across an airport runway to the flight out.