This was a different kind of a Fourth of July. The United States was diminished, geographically, in no way; it still stretched from sea to shining sea. The sun was as hot and bright, the fireworks as glorious, but for the first time, we were getting used to the idea of being just "Uncle Sam."

An uncle can be a major member of any family, even if he comes from across the sea. But he is no longer "Himself," the one they all look to for orders.

Of course, Uncle Sam made it possible for Europe to become what it is today. Without the Marshall Plan, without NATO, there would be no Group of 24, no Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe, for us to belong to, as one member among many. Without us, there would have been no fall of the Berlin Wall, no candlelit vigils in Berlin and Prague, no elections in Hungary.

But now a resurgent Europe wants to take charge of its own continent. We are welcome, but we are strapped for cash and trapped in attitudes from other years, and the Old World wants to get on with the new order.

We think that Mikhail Gorbachev should make reforms before getting the hard cash he so desperately needs to revive the dead horse of the Soviet economy. The Germans, hellbent on reunification and impatient with Soviet resistance, are willing to buy off Gorbachev with $15 billion. France is agreeable. Europe is in a position to prevail.

A united Europe, with the gigantic industrial might of Germany at its heart, is determined to enjoy the larger life, which we once almost exclusively enjoyed. That sense of the sky's being the limit, once our trademark, has washed back to those ancient, and we thought, cynical, capitals.

Until the fall of the Berlin Wall, we represented the ultimate in questing democracy, in personal liberties. Former Soviet satellites -- with Romania a screaming exception -- who have barely combed the secret police out of their hair, are practicing representative government in the most exacting manner.

Poland and Czechoslovakia have fielded world-class leaders. Lech Walesa is the envy of the American labor movement. Vaclav Havel is an intellectual who went to jail for his priniciples while we have been in the hands of flag-wavers and sound-biters. He writes in exalted prose of ideas that shame our political orators. We have had two presidents in a row who absolve the citizenry of any responsibility in their government. Havel stood in the well of the House and suggested that people, particularly those guilty of "reprehensible passivity," invite whatever happens to them, including totalitarian government.

We may take the measure of the new Europe in the way it deals with Romania, the eyesore of the restoration, where a confused electorate returned its oppressors to power and where decades of malign neglect are yielding up a harvest of doomed babies, ravaged countryside and hideous cityscapes. Britain, France and Germany have sent relief teams. But will Europe's new bosses have the will and the machinery to discipline leaders who brought in miners with crowbars to put down dissent?

Ours is not the only voice that will be heard on this point.

If we've been put in unprecedented context in Europe, we are still riding high in Asia, where we have not yet been challenged. This is unfortunate, because we have done nothing but good in Europe, while we have done nothing but bad in the Pacific since the end of World War II.

We are deeply involved in the fate of Cambodia, and we are, alas, prevailing. We kicked away the chance to do the right thing, mostly because President Bush has this thing about China, which is the defender and armorer of the loathsome Khmer Rouge. It can only be to please China that Bush is supporting various schemes that promote a policy that favors the Khmer Rouge.

There are encouraging signs that the Japanese, inhibited as they are because of their lamentable history in Asia, are going to take an initiative in a regional settlement of the tragedy.

There are persistent reports that Japan is going to play hardball with China and threaten to cut off much-needed loans if Beijing does not cease supplying arms to the Khmer Rouge.

Elsewhere in the Pacific, on the strength of old hostilities, we are refusing to recognize Vietnam, a move that would ease both the situation in Cambodia and the horrendous problem of the Hong Kong "boat people."

By the dawn's early light, we are handing the baton of the world's policeman to organizations, which are supposed to replace the politicians who used to run things. Let's hope they do as well in Europe -- and better in Asia.