President Bush has flown thousands of miles in recent weeks, using commencement speeches to flesh out his concept of the "new world order." But for many people it remains more scrawny than brawny, more rhetorical than real, more mirage than substance.
From Montgomery to New Haven to Colorado Springs, Bush has proclaimed his vision of a globe that won't tolerate aggression, where the world community bows only to the rule of law. He wants people treated justly and disputes settled peacefully _ hardly a new concept.
But at the very moment Bush was proposing at the Air Force Academy that the world's big arms sellers (including the United States) get together and agree to stop selling weapons of mass destruction to the Middle East, his defense secretary was in Israel working on terms for a $700-million weapons package sale already in progress.
Altogether, the administration still has plans for $20-billion worth of arms sales to the Middle East.
In the very week Bush was saying he will fight for continuing most-favored-nation trade status to China, its leaders were banning protests in memory of the students who were killed by government soldiers at Tiananmen Square two years ago.
Bush insists that "the new world order does not mean surrendering our national sovereignty or forfeiting our interests."
But he does foresee and demand a world economy based on free markets. Ironically, China, which forces prisoners in slave labor camps to produce to quotas, already has a $10-billion annual trade surplus with the United States.
Bush wants to reward China for siding with him in the Persian Gulf war. Likewise, countries such as Egypt, which also sided with the United States, are being rewarded with forgiveness of billions of dollars' worth of debt, which is severely aggravating free marketers such as the Japanese. It doesn't do U.S. taxpayers much good, either.
Bush said at Yale University, "We exemplify an ideal _ an ideal that conquers circumstance and suspicion, that conquers despots and empowers people."
But when the Kurds thought that Bush's advice to the Iraqi people to overthrow Saddam Hussein meant he'd help them empower themselves, they were wrong. He has made no call for a Palestinian homeland. Bush's new world order does not mean instability.
Bush said "it is wrong to isolate China if we hope to influence China . . . No nation on Earth has discovered a way to import the world's goods and services _ which stopped foreign ideas at the border."
Bush says, "We will not be able to advance our cause or resist repression if we pull back and declare that China is simply too impure a place for us . . . We want to advance the cause of freedom _ not just snub nations that aren't yet wholy free."
But Bush seeks to isolate Iraq. He seeks to isolate Cuba. He spurns Iran. He's still wary about how far to open the door to the Soviet Union.
As Bush has sent thousands of students out into the world, he has made clear what a new world order is.
He means what he says it means when he says it. The new world order means the establishment of "the American ideal," and it will be established under American leadership, and it will be done his way.
There are many times, Bush has told graduates, when it's hard to distinguish "between good guys and bad guys. When these situations arise, identify your principles and stick by them. Stick by them even when people jeer, when people urge you to find a quick and easy out."
Bush's final advice as the class of '91 goes forth is: "If you remain patient and true to yourself, you can't go wrong."
Ann McFeatters covers the White House for Scripps Howard News Service.