Statesmen Who Defined a Generation

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NEW YORK — You couldn’t help but feel this week that a certain generation was passing, perhaps the last of the great liberal interventionists who felt that America needed to lead the world in the progress of freedom.

I’m speaking first and foremost of the death on Monday of Richard C. Holbrooke, President Barack Obama’s special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan and a man who deserved the phrase the president used to describe him: a “towering figure.”...

Mr. Holbooke was in the thick of things right up to the end. But his death, for me at least, gets its generational significance because it comes so close to another recent passing, that of Stephen J. Solarz, the former congressman from New York, who died of throat cancer two weeks ago....

In 1991, Mr. Solarz wrote what might have been the main intellectual justification for the first Iraq war, breaking with many of his more leftist Democratic colleagues in the House.

Mr. Holbrooke supported the use of air power, including the bombing of Belgrade during the war in Kosovo and in both wars in Iraq, arguing against skeptics that to rid the world of a tyrant like Saddam Hussein was a legitimate use of American power.

It is in that sense that I see them as the last of the liberal interventionists — or maybe not the last, but among the most articulate, knowledgeable, thoughtful and forceful. It’s hard to see in the raucous, Palinesque, demagogic gabble taking place in America today who is going to take their place.

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