What will George Bush's "new world order" be like? We need only to "watch, listen and learn," as the president counseled in another context.

Almost without realizing it, we have seen Bush and his secretary of state, James Baker III, create new precedents governing the use of force in world affairs. From watching, one central fact emerges: Bush is not only trying to turn back Saddam Hussein's aggression. Like Woodrow Wilson and Harry Truman, Bush is deeply, self-consciously engaged in trying to create a system of global security.

"The civilized world is now in the process of fashioning the rules that will govern the new world order beginning to emerge in the aftermath of the Cold War," he said in the Nov. 26 Newsweek.

Bush's dream is global. His identifications are universal. When he says "we" he means "the civilized world." When he says "our" he means "the world community." When he says "we must turn back Saddam Hussein," he means all "would-be Saddam Husseins."

His goal is nothing less than a world community based on law. "When we succeed ... we will have demonstrated that aggression will not be tolerated. We will have invigorated a United Nations that contributes as its founders dreamed. We will have established principles for acceptable international conduct and the means to enforce them" (Newsweek).

These broader objectives explain why Bush did not choose a "Libyan solution" to turn back Saddam, why he has so often turned to the United Nations and so strongly emphasized U.N. support for U.S. actions.

They explain why Bush decided to seek an explicit, specific authorization for the use of force from the U.N. Security Council, even though the United States and its allies could more easily and perhaps more expeditiously have acted under Article 51 of the U.N. Charter. That article provides, "Nothing in the present charter shall impair the inherent right of individual or collective self-defense if an armed attack occurs against a member of the United Nations, until the Security Council has taken measures necessary to maintain international peace and security."

Bush also has sought to strengthen the United Nations. "The credibility of the United Nations is at stake," Baker told The Post as he prepared the resolution authorizing force. "It's very important that when the United Nations takes actions -- passes resolutions and takes actions -- that those resolutions and actions be implemented."

The irony is, in the process of dealing with Saddam and establishing new principles of international conduct, Bush is also demonstrating the many obstacles to an effective global system of collective security.

Even in this "singular moment" in history, with the Cold War divisions that paralyzed the United Nations overcome and the blocs partially neutralized, it remains difficult to deal with a clear-cut case of aggression. Although no major power has a stake in prolonging or exacerbating the conflict and regional security has been shattered by aggression of an Arab nation against an Arab nation, the process of consultation and consensus has proved cumbersome, time-consuming and, in a fundamental sense, irrational.

The 15-member Security Council is hardly an ideal arena through which to seek peace in a conflict between two Gulf states. Grant the dubious proposition that the five permanent members -- the United States, United Kingdom, France, China and the Soviet Union -- and Canada are involved in all problems because of their broad involvement in the world. Grant that North Yemen has a large stake as a neighbor in the region.

That leaves Colombia, Ethiopia, Finland, Malaysia, the Ivory Coast, Cuba, Romania and Zaire. Collectively, they have the power to decide the outcome even though they have no special knowledge of the countries or the regions and no special stake in that outcome. Since they will risk neither lives nor money in this conflict, they are good examples of representation without taxation.

There is something intrinsically unreasonable about the United States or the United Kingdom or the Saudis or the Egyptians asking permission of Finland or Zaire to spend lives and money driving back Saddam's forces.

And, of course, no one knows how stable the Security Council consensus supporting military action will prove, nor how much effort the council will make to manage the conflict once it is underway. For now, we know only that the process of producing global consensus is complex, laborious, expensive and reasonably effective.

Mobilizing this diverse body has already required weeks of shuttling around the globe by Bush and Baker, untold hours of negotiation and who knows how many quiet commitments to Security Council members. The consensus is a direct result of the American president's determined and persistent leadership.

Meanwhile in Washington, the clamor among congressional Democrats reminds the administration that world consensus is not enough. George Bush needs Congress as well.

And before those consultations are done, Bush may feel closer to Yemen and Zaire than to Sam Nunn and Christopher Dodd.