Monday, January 9, 2017

Blast from the Past

 I just discovered some letters I wrote over 10 years ago--perhaps around 2007.  I'm stunned by how much I've changed, but reviewing my old writings has also allowed me to touch the soul of a man who once had much more optimism than my current self.  Perhaps some good will come of this.  


America’s intelligence operations suffer from too short a horizon; in other words, the CIA and the White House need to view their operations as serious commitments rather than one-night stands.  A cursory view of Near East policies will show that America supported Iran, then Iraq, and then attempted to contain both countries.  In the end, both Iran and Iraq turned against America.  Did it have to be this way? 

The CIA should use officers to form good relations between countries.  Such friendliness, coupled with America’s historic commitment to freedom, will create more “loose lips” than all the agents in the world.  While traveling, I have learned more about a country’s political climate by riding the bus and making friends with students than reading a book or visiting museums.  I have found the most anti-American or anti-Iranian person immediately becomes a wealth of information when confronted with a person who is patient, curious, and balanced.  It is often said that mistresses make the best intelligence officers, because the bedroom creates a relaxed atmosphere.  The CIA should attempt to create a division that focuses on this relaxed atmosphere—in short, a “soft power” intelligence operation.   

The CIA, borne out of USSR-U.S. relations, is now faced with a much more agile enemy, one that uses politics, poverty, and disillusionment as major weapons.  The State Department does not have the CIA’s flexibility and cannot accomplish much on the ground.  If the CIA adapted in such a way as to incorporate “soft power” on the ground, the potential recruits for terrorism would diminish, trickle, and eventually fall away. 

[Sometimes] I am forced to conclude that America’s policy of “money makes might, and might makes right” is immoral and myopic.  The America I once knew, the one where Peter Parker told me “With great power comes great responsibility” [seems] gone forever.  In its place is guilt. 

[Still] I have lived in many countries, and I have always returned home knowing that America is the greatest country in the world.  America, to me, is one vast ee cummings poem—and when I read ee cummings, I cannot pinpoint or analyze why I love him, but I am filled with love and admiration nonetheless.  These feelings exist because of the unique tolerance that America provides its citizens.  As we remember the victims in NYC, let us also remember that the people of countries are distinct and separate from their governments.  Just as we would not want to be associated with the international policies of our government--or most of our politicians--many Middle Eastern citizens and U.S. citizens of Middle Eastern descent do not want to be associated with theirs.  

Bonus, on transparency in investing: I am troubled, however, by just how little clear information is available to the ordinary investor.  With the government distortions and the printing of money, it’s almost impossible to do anything but invest on blind faith when it comes to banks.  I don’t mind the declines in my portfolio as much as the lack of clarity.  Ordinary investors and people would appreciate a clear voice amidst all this financial fog.  

Bonus, on relationships: In my own personal experience, women seem to be endowed with a feature that drives them to identify ambitious men and domesticate them.  However, once domesticated, the men lose the qualities–aggression, greed, sharpness, etc.–that attracted the women in the first place.  While this balancing is great for children, it seems to lead to divorce once the children are grown and can fend for themselves.  This is also why you may have detected an unconscious unwillingness in me to fully relax around you–my subconscious seems to think that if I fully relax around any woman, I will lose the very skills that allow me to survive.  Since survival is my primary goal, it seems I’ve set up a paradigm where my brain has relegated me to single status if I also want to be ambitious and financially successful.  

This is one of the strange paradoxes of life in a big city–achieving the simple things actually hurt you in a dog-eat-dog world when trying to maximize your potential.  I am going to try to figure out how to resolve this paradox.  So far, I can only think about moving to a small city, which doesn’t seem to be a reasonable solution.

(c) Matthew Rafat

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