The evening news crackles with the sound of small-arms fire. There is the raucity of mobs on the march, and there are the moans of dying Southeast Asians. Seasoned observers now talk of the end of the old liberal order of international law, as one heretofore unimaginable barbarity nudges aside another. With all this sad pothering filling my ears, I turn to a briskly written publication, "The Record of President Carter's Administration: A Summary" (return address: The White House). Here is soothing emollient for a worried mind. It is a message of jubilation that ought to cheer the inhabitants of every refugee camp. "The president has succeeded in preserving the peace," it declares, and another embassy falls under attack.

A populist president gives us a populist peace. It is an achievement worthy of a unique memorial. And when in the fullness of time our president has jogged his last lap around the Rose Garden and heard his last taped program of light classics in the Oval Office, when bourbon flows once more in the White House and the boys hoist up their britches and head their mules south again, then I urge that especial care be taken in choosing an artist for Jimmy's last official portrait. Jimmy arrived at the Wthite House with a vast and impervious vanity, plus precisely six years' experience in Georgia sate government -- nothing more. When he was inaugurated, the current edition of Who's Who still listed Jimmy's profession as "farmer and warehouseman." Is there an American artist who can weigh all this and, with mere oils and canvas, present the 39th president to history? There is. I suggest: MacNelly. Admittedly, commissioning a cartoonist for a presidential protrait is without precedent, but then having a cartoon presidency is without precedent also.

It is now apparent that Jimmy knew very little about government when he forsook the plow and came to Washington. What he did know turned out to be wrong. Jimmy was not the first president to espouse a foreign polcy based on human rights; rather, he was the first to make the term sound obnoxious, then hollow. He propounded a foreign policy that rendered the United States disarmed and abusive. Now with the holocaust in Cambodia and the kidnapping in Iran, it appears that his policy is to render the United Sates disarmed and absurd.

What are the ideas abutting the Carter foreign policy, and where did they come from? This month I took it upon myself to read the published thoghts of some of Jimmy's most influential foreign policy lieutenants. Reading them is not like reading an earlier generatin of foreign policy hands. There is no whiff of Acheson or Kennan here. They read like college boys leading cheers.

The tone of their cheers is authentically conveyed in a discourse jointly composed in 1975 by Leslie Gelb, recently departed director of the Bureau of Political Military Affairs, and Anthony Lake, now director of the Policy Planning Staff. Here is their summation of congressional behavior after our Vietnam involvement: "Applause for the Mayaguez affair, approval of a defense budget that threatens to wipe out the campaign for domestic priorities, a failure to debate with care the basis for the U.S. role in the world; it was good politics, but bad foreign policy."

This is a very curious way of discussing very serious matters but, as one reads more of their work, one sees that this is a very curious group. Tirelessly lecturing their fellow Americans on the complexity of the world, our inability to "dictate events" and our culpability in many of the world's wrongs, they write as though foreign lands abound with reasonable men and written history began with the Tet offensive. What is more, the policies they implement guarantee the truth of their pronouncements. Under them the world has become more complex. Our power has steadily diminished, and we are indeed responsible for an everlarger amount of the world's wrongs. What would they have us do?

Richard Holbrooke, our president's assistant secretary of state for East Asian and Pacific affairs, spoke for Lake, Gelb and Jimmy himself in a 1976 issue of Foreign Policy. There he urged that we "use our natural strengths . . . to replace (in Marina V.N. Whitman's words) 'leadership based on hegemony with leadership based on persuasion and compromise.'" Moreover, Holbrooke reminded us that "we still possess . . . the basic moral force that exists in the principles of our system of government." Furthermore, Holbrooke hoped "that we will recognize that we do not need to dominate the world in order to live safely in it . . . . And above all, we must retain our belief in the exceptional nature of our system of democracy. That is our ultimate strength."

These fatuous thoughts have inspired three years of foreign policy moonshine. As the headlines of the past few months make unavoidably clear, there are vast stretches of the world that are not, despite Holbrooke's ardor, persuaded by "the basic moral force that exists in the principles of our system." Ask the ayatollahs, ask the comrades and ask the colonels: our principles are repugnant to them. So is our materialism. A Mr. Abdul Rassoul Al-Rida, in a letter in the Nov. 10 issue of The Economist, spoke for millions when he said: "The West, whose civilization is visibly crumbling in a morass of hedonism, unbridled materialism, social indiscipline and the rule of special interest groups, naturally fears the rise of a rejuvenated Islam and the alternative moral values it posits to the West's discredited myths of democracy and liberalism."

Possibly Abdul and his fellows are only pulling our leg.