The Foreign Service Journal, November 2019

THE FOREIGN SERVICE JOURNAL | NOVEMBER 2019 29 interests in those countries— e.g., air bases for the Afghan war, balancing Russian domination—made it neces- sary to accept the reimposi- tion of dictatorship, in some cases far more dictatorial than Gorbachev’s Soviet Union had been. We ended up accepting a double stan- dard in which the European former republics of the USSR were expected to adhere to basic principles of democracy and human rights, while the Central Asian republics were not. Our approach was by no means a complete failure, however, and in fact it can be argued that, overall, it was a success. Today, not only is there true democracy in the three Baltic states, but also something pretty close to it in Ukraine (the second most populous former republic after Russia), Georgia and maybe Moldova and Armenia. That’s seven out of 15—not great, but far from a washout. Ukraine’s struggle to define its own identity and to move toward being a true member of the democratic Euro- pean family of nations continues to inspire, all the more so after the tragic events of 2014 and the continuing Russian occupation of Crimea and the eastern Donbass. When I look back on those exciting years in which I was privi- leged to be both a witness and a minor player, what I remember most is the optimism. The belief that a page in history had been turned, and that the world was truly moving in “our” direc- tion—that is, toward Western-oriented liberal democracy, with everything that came with it, from free elections to free media, from freedom of religion to national self-determination—was widespread. Were we naïve to be so hopeful? On balance, I would say yes. But we were naïve in a good way: we really believed that freedom and peaceful coexistence were not only possible, but inevitable. And America in those years was still a dominant force and determining factor in nearly every crisis and every develop- ment across the globe. Things are more complicated now, and some of our hopes and aspirations clearly have crashed on the rocks of harder realities. U.S.-Russian relations, in particular, are a painful subject for those of us who have devoted so many years to seeing them develop in a positive way. What I take from those heady days when everything seemed possible is the reminder that nothing is forever, that change can happen in a positive way, and that we have to keep working toward the goals we have set and believe in. And I truly believe we are better off than we were in the 1980s, when the world seemed poised on the brink of nuclear conflict, and when the peoples of the Soviet bloc were trapped in what was truly a prison house of nations. We should recognize the progress that we have helped to make, and rededicate ourselves to the hard work that lies ahead in making our earlier dreams and aspirations come true. n COURTESYOFSHAWNDORMAN Vladimir Lenin’s commanding gesture over a sea of people was the basis for the cover design (inset) for The Foreign Service Journal ’s special December 2011 issue, “When the USSR Fell: The Foreign Service on the Front Lines.” AFSA/JEFFLAU