The forced resignation of Haiti’s democratically elected president, Jean-Bertrand Aristide, yesterday morning followed three weeks of armed rebellion and increasingly open pressure from a Bush administration too willing to ignore democratic legitimacy in order to allow the removal of a leader it disliked and distrusted. President Bush moved quickly yesterday to dispatch a contingent of marines to serve as the core of an international peacekeeping force. The United Nations Security Council authorized such a force last night. Sending the Marines was the right thing to do, but Mr. Bush should have done it days ago, when there was still a chance for an American-proposed compromise that would have reinforced the framework of constitutional democracy. Mr. Bush’s hesitation leaves Washington looking as if it withheld the Marines until Mr. Aristide yielded power, leaving Haitians at the mercy of some of the country’s most vicious criminal gangs.

Mr. Aristide, whose 1994 return to power after an earlier coup was backed by 20,000 American troops, contributed significantly to his own downfall. His increasingly autocratic and lawless rule turned many of his supporters into unyielding enemies and fueled the uprising in which some 100 Haitians were killed. Washington made matters worse by prematurely winding down its post-1994 efforts to create a professional and politically independent police force and by blocking international loans for the hemisphere’s poorest nation for three years to punish Mr. Aristide’s manipulation of the 2000 legislative elections.

Mr. Aristide did not deliver the democracy he promised. But the former death squad leaders and army thugs whose undisciplined forces seized power in a succession of cities and then surrounded the capital, Port-au-Prince, are men who have never accepted democracy and now menace Haiti’s democratic future. Taking those cities back from the rebels is one of the most urgent challenges facing international peacekeepers, along with disarming the pro-Aristide gangs that have been rampaging through Port-au-Prince. The rebel leaders include two convicted murderers who helped run an organization that killed thousands of Haitians during the last military government and a former police chief whom American officials suspect of cocaine trafficking. It is deplorable that Mr. Bush stood by while these men took over much of Haiti and undermined Secretary of State Colin Powell’s pleas for a political compromise.

Hours after Mr. Aristide yielded, the head of Haiti’s Supreme Court, Boniface Alexandre, was sworn in as his constitutional successor. Mr. Alexandre has a reputation as a competent and honest jurist, but he takes over a country even more devoid of legitimate institutions than it was a month ago. The Bush administration’s mishandling of this crisis guarantees that Haiti will require substantial American help for many more years to come.