In this segment of the Rule Breaker Investing podcast, Motley Fool co-founder David Gardner digs into the mailbag, and comes out with something from a genuine fan who was genuinely unenthusiastic about the two episodes in which David reflected on what he learned from his time with the Joint Civilian Orientation Conference, a Department of Defense program designed to give a few dozen non-military members a deeper insight into the U.S. Armed Forces. But even though one of them is from Saudi Arabia and one is from the United States, these two Fools have more in common than you might expect.
A transcript follows the video.
This podcast was recorded on Sept. 28, 2016.
David Gardner: I want to start with one of my favorite Mailbag exchanges, maybe in our Rule Breaker Investing podcast Mailbag history, if you will ... a history book that will never be written. But, here we go.
I received this rather remarkable note, about a month ago, reflecting on our two episodes when I talked about the Joint Civilian Orientation Conference, my tour with the American military at the end of August. It took a week, or two, for this note to show up, and that's why I'm featuring it right now, but right up front, here, and this is from [Ahmed], who I believe is writing from Saudi Arabia. I believe that's the case. I'm going to share what he wrote to me, and then I'm going to share what I wrote back to him, just so you can hear the loop being closed, here. It's a really provocative and interesting viewpoint. Here we go.
"My dearest Motley Fool chairman, David Gardner: I like your podcast. No, it's the only podcast I listen to every past episode of, and anticipatingly wait for, every week, because I love your podcast. However, I couldn't care any less for the last two episodes. Please hear me out, as both you and I 'believe that considering a diverse and motley range of insights makes us better Fools.'
"While I sincerely appreciate your patriotism, and I'm sure you will appreciate mine, I don't think the U.S. Department of Defense (the DoD) is worthy of all that praise. I know you firmly respect their effort in defending your freedom, but in the eyes of a large part of us (and I believe I can speak for the majority of Middle Eastern Fools), we don't see much 'defending.'
"Here the DoD appears to be more like a DO assault. The US has invaded, occupied, and still continues to nourish the conflicts that keep the Middle East the mess it is today. No wonder they told you that peace in the Middle East is not the goal, not because it's not achievable, but simply because it is not desirable. Cooperation in the Middle East is just a sneaky way of saying that the US does not want to grant sovereignty to any country over its matters, whether that country is an ally or an Iran.
"The words used are very deceiving and, indeed, deception must be a very valuable asset. I guess deception is a form of truth, after all, just not the entire truth. That, and much, much more, of what we have seen over the years lead me to conclude the DoD, as an institution, is used to enforce US unjust and inhuman foreign policies. With that said, I have no doubt of the existence of honest and honorable men and women in this institution, along with other dishonest and bad apples.
"I had the privilege of learning from Professor Jeremy Holmes, a retired Air Force general, who still replies back to every message I send him. But the issue remains at large with the will and direction of bigger forces than those individuals. I've never written such a lengthy piece to another podcaster, nor do I anticipate to do so in the future, but my respect and admiration for the podcast, which I saved 13 episodes of in my all-time favorite list, push me to express my level of frustration with the direction it took the last two episodes. Maybe my letter will mean very little to you, but I feel I could no longer go back listening to the podcast without venting and writing my thoughts down. Sincerely, admirer and devotee listener, [Ahmed]."
And I asked permission from [Ahmed] if I could share with you, on our podcast, what I wrote him back and he said yes, and so here it is.
I wrote: "Dear [Ahmed], thank you very much for this Foolish note. I understand your point of view, because you have illustrated it well, and because you have done so with civility and respect. You are also a fellow Fool. To me, this can be a bond that runs deeper, certainly, than nationalistic notions. Next month's Mailbag, I'm going to share your note with your permission. You illustrate the motley array of viewpoints that we encourage, here, at the Fool, and you do so in an exemplary manner.
"I agree very much with portions of your note, as well. I believe that US foreign policy has often created more problems than it solves, and many of the people I met last week, on JCOC, are not, of course, policymakers, but people who are bound, faithfully and loyally, to carry out policy, even if, in some cases, they themselves may not agree with it. They put their lives on the line, some of them, and have displayed a heroism in their daily job that is far beyond anything I have ever been challenged to do.
"I completely can understand the viewpoint that says that much of what has happened or is done by the American military is not welcomed. Indeed, many Americans would say the same thing and I'm blessed to live in a country where they are, indeed, able to express that freely and openly. Part of what I believe America is trying to do in the world, and it is even more a cultural or business phenomenon far more effectively than I think foreign policy or military objectives will ever achieve, is to enable as many people globally to enjoy such freedoms of speech, of economic opportunities, and of stability as we frankly take too much for granted every day here in the US.
"I do believe the vast majority of people I was podcasting about are not just decent, but actually quite excellent people who have their hearts in the right place and would be exemplars in any community. Nevertheless, I think we, in America, must often apologize for aspects of our past; not just internationally, but in our own internal culture.
"Anyway, your heartfelt and well-motivated note is appreciated, and I hope you will keep in touch in the future. Next week we return to the sorts of podcasts you hear the other 50 weeks of the year, so I hope I didn't lose you. Foolish best, from one Fool to another, David Gardner."
And I call this a happy ending because [Ahmed] replied and just paraphrasing a few of the things he said in response. He said he was glad to hear my kind and eloquent response. In truth he said he was anxious it would not be well-received. He was surprised to hear that I agreed with some of his points, although he said he shouldn't have been surprised, because I'm not the first American that he's heard to disapprove of some of our foreign policy. He said my response certainly helped soothe the wounds, and "maybe we should put this behind," he went on to say, "and feel free to mention this on the Mailbag, as well."
He closed out by saying hearing my voice over the radio every week, he's always felt like he knows me (I hope that's true of everybody who listens every week to Rule Breaker Investing) and now he's happy, in closing, to have made himself known to me in this genuine interaction although, he wrote, "I hoped it was in better circumstances or a nicer subject." But if he's ever in DC, he's going to make sure to visit Fool HQ. I had invited him once before on Twitter, in fact, he mentioned.
So now you see why that was one of my favorite all-time exchanges on Fool Mailbag, because I think it represents what I'm trying to do through this podcast, and what we try to do, here, at Fool HQ through our company, and that is to welcome a motley array of viewpoints, because we have something to learn from everybody.
And especially for us to achieve an understanding with each other, starting from maybe very different assumptions about what has happened in the world or what a good world looks like, going forward, I think that we arrived at a better understanding of each other and I very much thank you personally again, [Ahmed], for taking the time to write that note.