AT THIS POINT no more than a provisional verdict may be rendered, but it seems only fair to say that the Reagan administration's policy in Chad this summer seems, at least so far, to have been working. The two darker possibilities--that the Libyan campaign to topple the government of Chad would roll along unchecked, and that the United States would be drawn directly into the resistance to Libya--have both been averted. The signs are that the boiling international-level crisis of August is settling down into the sort of more modest regional pulling and hauling that Chad has had to live with for nearly two decades.
Chad's latest passage began when Col. Muammar Qaddafi of Libya sought to test the anti-interventionist rhetoric that the Socialist government of French President Francois Mitterrand, long in opposition, had brought to office. The empire-minded Libyan dispatched his Chadian client, aided by substantial Libyan forces, to overthrow president Hissene Habre. For awhile it seemed that France was truly paralyzed by the need to choose between its governing party's ideology and the French national interest in Africa as traditionally defined. Especially did it seem so to the Reagan administration, with its tendency to see Col. Qaddafi principally as an instrument of Soviet power. The administration was apparently tempted to pick up the burden that the French were evidently laying down.
Fortunately, the French got their act together. They have been putting into place in and around Chad a military force, including ground troops and warplanes, to offset the help that Libya has supplied the insurgents. It is said to be the largest French military operation in Africa since the war in Algeria.
With the Libyans' capture of the northern town of Faya Largeau, the battle had come to a certain pause anyway. Now the French are in a position to put into effect their declared policy of attempting to arrange a negotiated settlement. Col. Qaddafi's denial that his forces are in Chad is taken by French officials as something making it easier for him to withdraw those forces. The administration is extremely skeptical of Libya's purposes. But it is showing the sense to lie back and leave the field open to the French, who have an important economic interest in Libya and claim to know how to navigate there.
By way of covering its (welcome) retreat from rhetoric to responsibility, the French government contrived a way to broadcast that the United States was applying unseemly "pressure" on France and otherwise threatening to gum up the works. Wisely, the Reagan administration understood that President Mitterrand was constructing a politically useful rationale (to save Africa from American blundering) that would allow him to conduct a more forceful policy of his own. We wish him success in doing so.