The Foreign Service Journal, June 2022

THE FOREIGN SERVICE JOURNAL | JUNE 2022 13 the New Independent States,” February 2022). But our mistakes didn’t come because we weren’t listening and trying to under- stand, were inflexible and isolated or fearful of exploring new territory. And they certainly were not the stage-setters for today’s problems. Those problems have a history and complexity well beyond our failures of omission or commission. Ms. Loken makes the same mistake she accuses U.S. diplomats and develop- ment professionals of making—she gives us too much credit. It is a hubris that assumes the United States is more pow- erful than it is. She overlooks the extent to which leaders in the former Soviet Union had agency. She implies we didn’t travel. With seven trips to Russia and side trips to Ukraine, Armenia and Kazakhstan as USAID’s Russia desk officer (1992-1994), I know we traveled widely—delivering humanitarian aid, and visiting pig farms and grain mills, nuclear submarine factories converting to refrigerators, pris- ons with multidrug-resistant TB, drug addicts with HIV, local governments trying to govern, small businesses and newly independent newspapers. Ms. Loken says we didn’t listen; but we listened to so many voices—from union leaders, environmentalists and heads of grassroots organizations like Soldiers’ Mothers, to leaders like Boris Nemtsov, LETTERS-PLUS No OneWas Listening … ?! BY DESAIX (TERRY) MYERS RESPONSE TO APRIL SPEAKING OUT, “NO ONE WAS LISTENING, 1992” K ristin Loken’s provocative opinion piece in the April FSJ builds on George Krol’s “Practical Lessons for Today’s Foreign Service” in the December 2021 edition. Ambassador Krol draws his lessons—Learn the Language, Adapt and Be Creative, Go Out and Discover, Know and Explain, Get Out of the Office, Learn to Listen and Listen to Learn, Team is Supreme—from what he learned in the hurly-burly of U.S. diplomacy during the transformation of a collapsed Soviet Union. Ms. Loken argues that we didn’t listen during those years. We failed to follow the Krol lessons, she says; and, as a result, “the actions we took at the end of the Cold War set the stage for our problems today.” Her judgment is harsh. And her conclusion is wrong. Certainly, there was much we didn’t know as we set up new embassies and USAID missions in the 15 independent countries emerging from the former Soviet Union. And we made plenty of mistakes. An article I wrote for the online quar- terly American Diplomacy admitted as much (“Launching USAID Programs in reformmayor of Nizhny Novgorod; Yegor Gaidar, an economist and 36-year old acting prime minister in 1992; Lyudmila Alexeyeva, a longtime human rights activ- ist; Anna Politkovskaya, a journalist; and Andrey Kozlov, later deputy central bank governor and anticorruption crusader. They were strong and courageous partners. They had plenty of ideas of their own—and they could look at Western experience and judge far better than we what might work. It is possible that even they, with lifetimes in Russia, under- estimated the brutality of politics and corruption. But they were courageous and, more probably, understood the dangers but were willing to take risks to confront it. They asked for our help, and we supported their programs. Three—Nemtsov, Politkovskaya and Kozlov—would be assassinated; a fourth, Alexeyeva, was struck in the face with a brick at the age of 83, and Gaidar, who may have been poisoned in an unex- plained incident, later died of a heart attack at age 53. To say that our failures set the stage for today’s problems greatly oversimpli- fies the historical complexity of the region and overestimates our importance. It puts us at the center. It assumes for us much greater power and influence than we have or could have had. It ignores the most important lesson we should take from our work—humility. Desaix (Terry) Myers is a re- tired USAID FSO who served as Russia desk officer (1992- 1994) and as MoscowMission director (2003-2007).