WASHINGTON -- As his chief diplomat describes it, President Bush heads off tonight on a mission to "bury the hatchet" of the Cold War in Europe while laying the political foundation for a hot war looming in the Persian Gulf.
His eight days of travel will take him to the public square in Prague, where chanting multitudes peacefully toppled Czechoslovakia's Communist regime one year ago, and then onto elegant treaty-signing ceremonies in Paris that promise a new era of peace and cooperation between East and West.
The journey is planned to climax with shots of the commander in chief ambling through the chow line in a Saudi desert army camp to share a Thanksgiving meal with some of the hundreds of thousands of soldiers he has ordered to duty there.
Behind the scenes, the president will be lobbying U.S. allies to help him convince Iraqi President Saddam Hussein that the threat of a military strike in retaliation for seizure of Kuwait is as real as it looks.
For Mr. Bush, the trip is a welcome chance to escape the contentious and sullying business of domestic budget politics and return to the foreign policy arena, where he has so far been happier and more successful.
For the nation, administration officials hope the trip's contrasting themes will serve as a reminder of the continuing ability of the United States to play a leadership role in world affairs -- and, perhaps, the necessity for it to do so.
Because the Bush administration sat on the sidelines of last year's dramatic transformation of Europe, some analysts there have been suggesting that perhaps the United States, with its massive budget troubles, is no longer in a position to be the undisputed world leader.
But Mr. Bush's handling of the Persian Gulf crisis contradicts that, said Rozanne L. Ridgway, assistant secretary of state for European affairs under President Ronald Reagan.
The United States proved to be the "one country in the world [that] is not only intellectually but physically capable of acting," she said.
The European portion of the president's journey will be a largely ceremonial conclusion to the East-West divisions of the Cold War.
Mr. Bush and Soviet President Mikhail S. Gorbachev will join with their military partners Monday in Paris in signing a treaty intended to reduce sharply the stocks of tanks, aircraft and other conventional weapons that have been poised along the Iron Curtain for four decades.
The treaty has been so nearly overtaken by events that Mr. Bush already has exceeded its requirements by ordering last week the transfer of almost 50,000 soldiers -- two armored divisions -- from Europe to the Persian Gulf. They will not be going back to Europe, the Pentagon says.
"The threat of conventional war in Europe has been reduced to a remote contingency," observed Jonathan Dean of the Union of Concerned Scientists.
The 34 nations belonging to the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe will also hold a summit in Paris early next week aimed at building the organization into something more powerful than the political shell it has been since its inception in the mid-1970s.
As the only European entity to which both East bloc and West bloc members belong, the CSCE is seen as particularly dTC important to Mr. Gorbachev as a vehicle for maintaining an active role for the Soviet Union in European security issues.
Among the more ambitious schemes expected to be approved at the summit is the creation of a Conflict Prevention Center, which Secretary of State James A. Baker III said would "facilitate in the conciliation of disputes."
But there is no plan to discuss the most serious problems confronting Europe -- such as mounting ethnic unrest, the threatened collapse of Yugoslavia and the potential breakup of the Soviet Union.
"This summit in Paris is likely to be little more than a feel-good European summit -- the appearance of cooperation where its deeper problems will remain unaddressed," said Douglas Seay of the Heritage Foundation.
The global effort to force Iraq to withdraw from Kuwait will also be absent from the formal agenda in Paris, but it is sure to be a topic of private conferences.
"It's inevitable that it will be brought up because it's what's on everyone's mind," said Herbert Vedriene, spokesman for French President Francois Mitterrand.
Mr. Bush plans to bring it up with Mr. Mitterrand and Mr. Gorbachev, whose support he wants for a resolution by the United Nations authorizing the use of force, if necessary.
The president will also confer on the issue with other members of his global coalition.
Although the president insists he has not given up hope that the economic sanctions on Iraq will achieve their purpose, he says he needs a "credible threat" of a military strike to increase the pressure.