The Wisdom of Solomon

Below are coats of arms painted on the plywood walls of Camp Rawah

It always amuses me that private businesspeople come to government officials for advice about business issues.  What do guys who work for the government, who never met a payroll and have retirements backed by the full faith and credit of the United States Government know about the risks & rewards of business?

Some authorities & businessmen in Baghdadi were at odds with a general contractor who does jobs around there and on Al Asad.   They all asked us (the Marines and me) to intercede.   In the interests of literally keeping the peace, we did.

The big complaints involved the contractor not hiring enough local guys, not buying enough from local vendors and not paying either vendors or workers on time.  It reminded of the ward/union boss problems you might face in an old industrial establishment.  I could almost hear the familiar accents.  I was “protected”  by Longshoremen’s Local 815 when I loaded cement in Milwaukee (we inland residents loading cement onto flatbed trucks and railroad cars were longshoremen, BTW, because our products arrived on the waters of the Kinnickinnic River.)  Those guys with the big forearms would have understood this situation.

Below – More coats of arms

We repeated a few platitudes and praise for all participants and the local guys went at it.   It was evident that the biggest single problem was the lack of a reliable banking function.  This is a cash-only-economy.  Workers and contractors are paid in actual currency, which is sometimes hard to get and move in large quantities.  Sometimes payments were late because there just was no cash available.   One of the Baghdadi guys said that Warka Bank was soon to open a branch in Baghdadi – WITH an ATM.  As the significance of this portentous development sunk in, attitudes softened.

After a couple hours it was clear that the problem was not really one of blatant bad faith or dishonesty, but just a failure to communicate.   One of the Baghdadi guys said as much lamenting that when the contractor comes to town, “he doesn’t stop by and pay his respects.”   Now I was picturing Marlon Brando in “the Godfather.”

So much of business is just relationships with people.  We pretend we behave rationally and we often convince ourselves that we do, but we don’t.   Something like conspicuously paying respects can mean the difference between smooth coasting and crashing on the rocks, between deals done and deals lost, around here maybe even the difference between living and dying.    

The lesson here is that people will often work things out among themselves if they are provided a safe venue and someone perceived as a powerful neutral party (like the Marines & me) who flatters one side and then the other and tells them how reasonable they are.  Maybe the Wisdom of Solomon comes mostly from just having Solomon’s job… and the patience to listen for a long time to everybody’s problems.