Television -- always at its best when it can cover events live -- gave us two glimpses of the new world on Sunday, first at the joint news conference of President Bush and Soviet President Gorbachev, then at the U.S. Open tennis tournament men's final between Pete Sampras and Andre Agassi. The comparison may seem frivolous but is actually quite instructive.
Sampras, the 19-year-old winner, is Mr. Cool; and Agassi, the 20-year-old loser, is Mr. Punk, with his gaudy clothes and earring. But both are indelibly men of the '90s. No one could have imagined them doing what they did -- contesting for supremacy after eliminating the likes of Boris Becker, Ivan Lendl and John McEnroe -- one minute earlier than they did.
Bush and Gorbachev, on the other hand, are clearly men of another time, struggling to adapt to the ambiguities and paradoxes of a new world order. Both have helped fashion this new world, but neither can be certain how to command it.
As a result, what was natural and uninhibited and powerful and graceful in the New York tennis stadium came across as strained and somehow unsatisfying on the stage in Helsinki. But the differences go far deeper.
The point of the Helsinki mini-summit, the reason that Bush flew through seven time zones for seven hours of talk, was to impress Iraq's Saddam Hussein with the solidity of the great powers' alliance against his aggression. Let us hope it does so. But once they had agreed on the necessity of Saddam's obeying the United Nations' resolutions to leave Kuwait, Bush and Gorbachev could not conceal the differences in the way they view the Persian Gulf crisis or the way in which they think it can be resolved.
Their meeting thus demonstrated that the antagonists in the Cold War have an easier time writing its epitaph than they do in deciding what should come next. Gorbachev has higher hopes that diplomacy, backed by the international embargo, will bring his onetime client/ally Saddam to his senses. Bush, while willing to give that strategy more time, believes that the military option may ultimately have to be exercised. While he does not rule it out, Gorbachev is obviously reluctant to get into that game.
The source of the differences is evident enough, when you think about what the two leaders had in their heads as they sat down.
Bush views the Iraqi threat through a double prism of traditional American foreign policy. The first is the "national interest" perspective, which identifies certain vital territories and resources -- like the Persian Gulf countries and their oil -- as being of such importance to the United States that we cannot allow them to come under the control of a hostile power.
The second is the "collective security" perspective -- embodied partially in the United Nations and partly in NATO -- which seeks to mobilize international opinion and multinational forces to isolate any aggressor. In Saddam's case, Bush has managed to get both the U.N. and NATO on the move.
In both respects, Gorbachev is playing with a different deck of cards. The Soviet Union never housed the United Nations and never attached much importance to it -- except as an occasional propaganda forum. The Soviet Union's "collective security" arrangement, the Warsaw Pact, always included more pawns and captives than allies. And the Warsaw Pact was in the process of rapid self-liquidation when Saddam struck against Kuwait.
As for "national interests," Gorbachev has been drawing the circle of foreign commitments ever smaller, as his own country has been buffeted by political and economic stresses. While the Soviet Union historically had designs on the Persian Gulf, access to the Gulf and its oil is not a vital necessity.
Given all of these differences, it is no wonder that Bush's and Gorbachev's policy views on the Iraqi challenge did not fit neatly together. For all the mocking of "the special relationship" between Great Britain and the United States, the Gulf crisis once again has demonstrated a symmetry of interests and viewpoints between those two countries that Moscow and Washington just do not share.
They do share two other things, however. One is their desire to liquidate the remnants of the Cold War by finishing the work on the strategic and conventional arms agreements that will allow both of them to reduce and redirect their defense spending. And the other is the weakness of the economic bases on which this venture in power politics rests.
The United States, wracked by a decade of self-indulgent budget deficits, is scraping up contributions from other countries to help pay for the deployment of its forces to the Gulf. It is right that those countries should contribute, but it is also a stark necessity for the United States.
Moscow, which has far worse economic problems at home and far fewer affluent allies, is that much more reluctant even to commit its military strength to a possible Gulf war.
What the Sunday television contrast made evident is that only the young -- whether nations or individuals -- really have the freedom to say it is a brand-new day. Everyone else is shadowed by the past.