DOES IDI AMIN an opulent exile, cackle as he observes the strife and misery in which Uganda is still caught up a year and a half after he was deposed? He had bombed out the East African country's political superstructure, plundered its economy and destroyed its social cohesion, and his successors are still struggling just to make a start to rebuild.

It has been essential, first of all, to assemble a structure of policial authority. The Tanzanian forces that liberated Uganda from Amin have helped enable this effort to be made -- a good number of them, it might be noted, taking a classic view of a liberator's perquisites, have themselves been despoiling the country. But the Uganda authorities have been unable to honor their own September election pledge. Now the talk is of December, but such questions remain as whether elections will be presidential or legislative and who will pay for the ballots. Over the process hovers the larger question of whether, in a country whose tribal and religious wounds are raw, the losers would hold still.

The economy is scarcely functioning. This makes development as such largely a matter of plans and dreams. Relief, in which the United States is playing a $10 million part this year, is the main channel by which Uganda's foreign friends now help it out. But even relief has been severely set back by the uncommon amount of lawlessness in the country. In cities like Kampala, it is reported, shop proprietors take unsold goods home for safekeeping for the night. In the Karamoja region, the government seems to have abandoned efforts to keep order, and bands of soldiers, ex-soldiers and brigands of several countries prey on the hapless locals, stealing the cattle on which they live and reducing them to a state between malnutrition and starvation.

Aware of the importance of security to everything else, the United Nations has quietly been trying to get a few foreign countries to help Uganda train Ugandans for police work. The United States is not one of those countries: Congress, despairing that police training and police abuses could ever be kept separate, abolished police training during the Vietnam period. Perhaps nothing can be done in time to make any difference for Uganda, but surely there is reason for the United States to ponder whether the "tiger cage syndrome" should continue to guide the American approach to security assistance.