Death by Vanity Reply

Self-Interest Can Be Fatal

By Chris Simmons

On January 15th of 2005, U.S. military forces conducted a raid to capture Abu Omar al-Kurdi. Credible media outlets characterized al-Kurdi as a veteran of training camps in Afghanistan before arriving in Iraq in August 2003 to become Al Qaeda’s chief bomb-maker in-country. Since then, he had been responsible for making 75% of all car bombs in Iraq. At the time of his capture, he was orchestrating a wave of bomb attacks against Iraqi polling centers in an effort to derail the national elections on January 30th.

When captured, he did something we’d never before seen: he congratulated us and immediately identified himself as the master bomb-maker for Al Qaeda in Iraq, Abu Omar al-Kurdi. Let’s step back and put this in context. Terrorists never identify themselves. They give their captors false names, they stall, they do anything they can to buy time so their colleagues can move to new locations. They do this out of self-interest.

In contrast, al-Kurdi did the exact opposite. Why? Because self-interest is emotional, not rational. It shapes our identity and values (see the June 8th posting, The Secret to Never Getting Blindsided/). Al-Kurdi wanted his 15 minutes of fame. He knew he was a dead man. He accurately assumed we would eventually turn him over to the Iraqi government, which would execute him. In his mind, the only thing that mattered was his legacy. He wanted the world to know he was a bombing mastermind. Convinced we were the path to his immortality, he would not stop talking. He acted on his self-interest, convincingly revealing his role in numerous unsolved bombings. In doing so, Abu Omar al-Kurdi satisfied his insatiable vanity, all the while knowing that his actions provided immeasurable help to allied forces and the Iraqi government.