If I learned one lesson from my time with the CIA, it is this: Everybody believes they are the good guy
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AMARYLLIS FOX – FORMER UNDERCOVER CIA OFFICER
Lessons from life undercover
“I was an officer with the CIA Clandestine Service and worked undercover on counterterrorism and intelligence all around the world for almost 10 years. The conversation that’s going on in the United States right now about ISIS and about the United States overseas is more oversimplified than ever.
Ask most American whether ISIS poses an existential threat to this country and they’ll say yes. That’s where the conversation stops. If you’re walking down the street in Iraq or Syria and ask anybody why America dropped bomb, you get: “They were waging war on Islam.”
And you walk in America and you ask why were we attacked on 9/11, and you get:”They hate us because we’re free.”
Those are stories, manufactured by a really small number of people on both sides who amass a great deal of power and wealth by convincing the rest of us to keep killing each other. I think the question we need to be asking, as Americans examining our foreign policy, is whether or not we’re pouring kerosene on a candle.
The only real way to disarm your enemy is to listen to them. If you hear them out, if you’re brave enough to really listen to their story, you can see that more often than not, you might have made some of the same choices, if you’d lived their life instead of yours.
An Al Qaeda fighter made a point once during a debriefing. He said all these movies that America makes, like Independence Day and Hunger Games and Star Wars, they’re all about a small, scrappy band of rebels who will do anything in their power with the limited resources available to them to expel an outside, technologically advanced invader.
And what you don’t realize, he said, is that to us, to the rest of the world, you are the empire, and we are Luke and Han. You are the aliens and we are Will Smith.
But the truth is when you talk to the people who are really fighting on the ground, on both sides, and ask them why they’re there, they answer with hopes for their children, specific policies that they think are cruel or unfair.
And while it may be easier to dismiss your enemy as evil, hearing them out on policy concerns is actually an amazing thing. Because as long as your enemy is a subhuman psychopath that’s going to attack you no matter what you do, this never ends. But if your enemy is a policy, however complicated, that we can work with.
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