"VIVE LA FRANCE!" said the State Department's spokesman, commenting on the coup organized by France to unseat an erstwhile client, Emperor Jean-Bedel Bokassa of the Central African Empire. Such was the emperior's well-documented record of personal cruelty and neglect of his people that the French seem likely to receive more credit than criticism for getting rid of his regime. For Paris, the last straw apparently was the revulsion generated by disclosures that Bokassa himself had participated in the massacre of dozens of schoolchildren who had complained of his order to buy uniforms. With hands thus bloodied, the shrewd and cynical former French Army NCO had issued a decree protecting young people in the name of the International Year of the Child.

Yet the French should not be let off with an understanding pat on the head for their naughtiness (however seemingly justified in this case) in dispatching the military and intelligence personnel and in hatching the plot to overthrow a duly recognized government. Bokassa regarded French President Valery Giscard d'Estaing, who hunted with him as recently as a year ago, as his "personal friend," and he regularly hailed the "brotherly relations" his "empire" enjoyed with France. He had previously been the beneficiary of French military intervention and budgetary support, and he cooperated with France's broader designs in Africa. Intent on ensuring access to the CAR's uranium and on maintaining "stability" in their erstwhile African colonies, the French turned an understanding eye to his excesses. Paris at first described the murders of children reported by Amnesty International as "pseudo-events." French diplomacy was probably no more dedicated to the pursuit of financial profit in the CAR than anywhere else, but the results there, in terms of sustaining a tyrant's rule for 14 years, were particularly sickening.

The international community has yet to find an effective and consistent way to deal with rogue regimes. Established countries of the West and, of course, the Soviet Union sustain some of them. Support can also come from other rogue regimes, like Libya, which happens to have aided all three of the African tyrants who have been deposed this year -- in Uganda and Equatorial Guinea as well as the CAR. The availability of foreign patronage and the doctrine of sovereignty give the rogues a broad field on which to play. Mercifully, one less is playing now.