The Foreign Service Journal, April 2022

THE FOREIGN SERVICE JOURNAL | APRIL 2022 23 I remember walking through the fall- ing snow one day to a meeting with the newly formed Russian Human Rights Committee and watching unusual mili- tary action at the Russian parliament building. The next day I mentioned the experience to an embassy colleague, who told me not to tell anyone else about it because we were not supposed to be wandering around Moscow at all, and definitely not alone (although for a USAID person that didn’t seem to be enforced as effectively). 4) Know and explain thyself. In the area I worked, democracy, what I saw happening was we were trying to impose on Russia an idealized image of democracy as we believed it worked in Kansas. First, we needed to under- stand U.S. democracy as it really is, not an ideological version. Understanding our own system, its benefits and flaws and how it actually works in Kansas is a key step in introducing that system to another country. Second, what works in the United States may have very little similarity to what would work in Russia because democracy is a sociocultural institution. So not only do you have to understand your own system, but you must also understand the sociocultural conditions and institutions of Russia to transfer new ideas effectively. We had almost none of this information on Russian institutions. 5) Get out of the office. In my wan- derings around Moscow, I met many people and observed social and com- mercial and religious and some political behaviors of the people of Moscow; most of my colleagues lived and worked on the embassy compound and only left for meetings. What I found especially startling was that we were trying to support (and direct) this transition in a vacuum. We had almost none of the information I would have had in any developing country on which to base programming decisions. And the situation was even worse in the newly independent states of the former Soviet Union. 6) Learn to listen, listen to learn. My experience during this time was that no one on the U.S. side was listening. We had won the Cold War, so there was no need to listen. Our responsibility was to make sure Russia could never fight a cold war with us again. Along the way, if we could push free-market capitalism and democracy on them, all the better. It certainly didn’t work out that way. We didn’t follow these six recom- mendations in the past and today reap the results. I hope the State Department and USAID will consider them as we face the international challenges of the 21st century. n Speaking Out is the Journal ’s opinion forum, a place for lively discussion of issues affecting the U.S. Foreign Service and American diplomacy. The views expressed are those of the author; their publication here does not imply endorsement by the American Foreign Service Association. Responses are welcome; send them to . I have always felt we had a real opportunity at this juncture to make a friend of Russia, an opportunity we threw away.