When President Clinton discusses Libya, he uses tough words. They were present again as he dedicated a monument at Arlington National Cemetery to the victims of the bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland.

The groundbreaking was strong on symbolism. It took place on Dec. 21, five years to the day that the jumbo jet exploded, killing 270 people, 189 of them Americans.The president was assisted by a 5-year-old boy who never knew his father. Nicholas Bright was 6 months old at the time his father's life was ended by a terrorist bomb.

"Today," said Clinton, "we assemble in solemn remembrance to dedicate a simple monument to the victims of a savage act of terrorism. Here, there will soon stand a cairn, the traditional Scottish marker for the resting place of the dead, built of 270 stones."

Clinton told family members of the victims that their determination to see justice done fortified his government's resolve to combat terrorism.

"That is why we remain determined to see that those who murdered those who were aboard Pan Am 103 are brought to justice; why we have demanded the surrender of the two Libyans indicted for this vicious offense; why we have pushed for and secured tougher international sanctions against Libya and why we will not rest until the case is closed."

Accurately, the president said the bombing was not merely an attack against the passengers but was "an attack against America." That raises a question.

How could Libya, a North African country of 4.4 million people led by an eccentric dictator, Moammar Gadhafi, attack the "lone superpower" and not suffer punishment for five years?

One answer is that Clinton and George Bush before him enmeshed themselves in the United Nations Security Council, where there is little desire to seriously chastize Gadhafi.

Some Third World countries on the council secretly admire Gadhafi's nose-thumbing at Washington. Europe, especially Germany and Italy, buy Libyan oil and do not wish to inconvenience themselves by finding alternate sources.

Libya experts say that as long as Gadhafi can sell $24 million in oil a day to Europe, he will be able to pay his military and secret police and stay in power. If that income is cut off, he will be overthrown and the two suspects probably turned over for trial in Britain or the United States.

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Clinton is not as helpless as he appears. Libya's oil exports, and therefore its economic existence, depend on a few loading terminals on the Mediterranean.

If the president had the courage to issue the order, the U.S. 6th Fleet could take out the terminals in an hour. Libya would be an ex-oil power, Gadhafi an ex-despot.

If, on next Dec. 21, the sixth anniversary of the worst crime in aviation history, the two indicted saboteurs are ensconced in Tripoli and Gadhafi sits on his throne of terror, the cairn will stand in silent reproach to Clinton's soaring rhetoric and lack of follow-through.

Some citizens may think he used hallowed ground as a backdrop for political theater.

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