The memory of Stephen Solarz, who died this week, should serve as a rude reminder of a time, not long ago but nonetheless ancient, when Capitol Hill was deeply immersed—when it led—in American foreign policy, and a congressman could become a significant figure on the world stage. The honorable gentleman from Brighton Beach had an impact upon the fate of nations. From his perch on the Foreign Affairs Committee, with a nimble and ferocious grasp of all the instruments of policy available to him, Solarz helped to end the genocide in Cambodia and offered crucial support for the forces of democracy in the Philippines. In South Korea, in Lebanon, in Taiwan, he was a force for political liberalization. He was relentless in his efforts to end apartheid in South Africa. He staunchly kept the pressure on Rhodesia and explored diplomatic possibilities with North Korea. At a time when liberal support for Israel seemed to be fraying, he was stalwart. Although he entered Congress in the post-Vietnam, post-Watergate cohort of 1975, Solarz’s tireless agitation for human rights around the world steadily inculcated in him a new and somewhat heterodox appreciation for America as a beneficent force in the world, and in 1991 he committed the heresy of supporting the Persian Gulf war for the emancipation of Kuwait from the occupying forces of Saddam Hussein. He was the rare figure who was outraged by all abuses and atrocities equally: he was empirical, not ideological, about injustice. He was a hawkish dove or a dovish hawk, but mainly he believed in the progress of freedom, and in the responsibility of the United States to assist in that progress. After he lost his seat in a primary in 1992, his humanitarian activism did not abate, and he played a leading role at the admirable and innovative International Crisis Group.
He never lost his reformer’s faith in argument and, after argument, in action. He was ebullient and indefatigable and optimistic and almost unconscionably youthful. In the range of his travels and his thoughts, he was global before globalization—a genuinely cosmopolitan man, who exemplified many of America’s finest inclinations to many corners of the world. His mind was greedily inquisitive, and he deepened his diplomatic experience with a vast reading. He was a politician, but he did not like the smallness of political life, until he risked his local base with his international crusades. (The championing of Benigno Aquino was generally not regarded as a form of constituent service on Coney Island Avenue.) He was also a friend of this magazine, and a close friend of some of its editors. In these petty and introverted and dangerous times, we pray that we will look on Steve Solarz’s like again, so that American government, and also American liberalism, will once more be animated by a grander feeling for history, and by a sense of what we can do with our power to alter its course for the good.
Below are four of Solarz' finest contributions to TNR: