Surrounding Iraq are myriad Middle East cultures bristling with anger at America’s presence there. We seek each of these as a trading partner, not a conquest.

But can we develop a method of cultural understanding that will win the hearts and minds of a people and obtain mutual goals in peaceful approaches? National Guard colonel and former state assistant Attorney General Daniel Giaquinto was one of those men counted upon to work effectively in Iraq’s unfamiliar culture immediately after America’s defeat of Saddam Hussein in 2003. And he says that we have learned the necessary lessons to work effectively with people whose ways we barely knew just a short while ago.

Giaquinto will discuss how this crash course in Iraq Society 101 was achieved — and how well we might grade ourselves — at the Mercer County Chamber of Commerce on Thursday, February 18, at 11:30 a.m. at the Trenton Marriott. Cost: $60. Visit www.mercerchamber.org.

Giaquinto’s initial resume would probably not place him on the short list for dealing with the intricate and alien ways of Iraq’s society. Born to blue collar Trenton parents, Giaquinto was the first of his family to attend college. He graduated from Trenton State College in 1976 with a bachelor’s in psychology and criminal justice. After working in Mercer County a couple of years, Giaquinto took his law degree from Rutgers and joined the Army National Guard’s Judge Advocate General’s (JAG) Corps. This took him to Germany, where he acted as defense and prosecution attorney in military courts of justice.

Upon discharge Giaquinto turned to the public sector, serving as a municipal court judge in Hopewell and Trenton. He also took on the duties of Mercer County Prosecutor and assistant Attorney General/Director State Police Affairs for New Jersey.

He currently heads the white collar crime unit for the private, Bridgewater-based law firm of Kern Augustine. During his year in Iraq — June, 2008, to June, 2009 — Giaquinto served as the lead attorney for the 50th Infantry division’s JAG Corps.

“The thing to remember,” says Giaquinto, “is that Iraq was not a war, it was an insurgency. Our goal was to win the people’s hearts and minds. It took us a while to get politically astute, but I honestly feel that we won in Iraq.”

Family values. One major strategy flaw that caused so many early failures in Iraq was our inability to appreciate the strength of family ties. This is a core bond of Arab society that might have been nurtured and wooed to our advantage. However, with the defeat of Saddam, American leadership dismissed all Ba’athist leaders — the strongly Arab-nationalist party that almost wholly comprised the first and second tier of Hussein’s government.

“These were the people who knew where the weapons lay,” says Giaquinto. “By kicking out all these men and giving them no way to live — robbing them of all honor in their family’s eyes — we virtually forced them and their families into insurgency.” Had we worked with these leaders initially to have them continue keeping order under new American supervision, we might have come more quickly toward a friendly, stable, self-governing Iraq.

Going Tribal. “It’s all about dealing with the man who has the most juice,” says Giaquinto. “In Iraq, the chain of personal allegiance goes first to family, then to tribe, then to province, then to state, and finally to the pan-Arab world.” Each of these entities claims a distinct identity. Unfortunately, Americans, as a nation of immigrants whose history shifted straight from ethnic clusters to states, hold a great tribal blind spot.

American soldiers and diplomats working in the cities initially tended to seek alliances with officials of rank and appointment. This tended to gloss over the less visible, but infinitely more powerful leaders within the tribe. Yet Americans were quick to find power bases, and Giaquinto saw this practice remedied during his tour.

Nix USA quick. Most of the Iraqis with which Giaquinto dealt held some degree of western education and appeared, on the surface, westernized. This only made the potential for social gaffes greater.

“Americans have a great desire to rush in, and after a brisk handshake, get right down to business,” he says. “But this is not the Arab way.” An Iraqi will sit his business guest down, share chai tea, sip endlessly, and chat with seeming irrelevance for hours. During the first meeting, actual matters of business might never even be discussed.

Instead of seething at what might be viewed as senseless ramblings, Giaquinto suggests you realize what is going on here. The Iraqi is slowly and effectively discerning the content of your character.

You are on trial, and your business depends on how you respond to his comments about the weather. If you are going to win in the long run, go with this flow, and use the time to study the character of the Iraqis whose hospitality you are sharing.

One problem that has played havoc with these traditional Arab negotiation patterns is the American military rotation system. Iraqis and Afghans are ever complaining that by the time they get to know an individual, he is rotated home and a stranger inserted in his place.

Across the table. When the famed Iraqi hospitality finally yields to negotiations, do not expect the same gracious manners. “Without a moment’s hesitation, an Iraqi will throw you under the bus,” says Giaquinto. He will embarrass you, blame your group or nation for all failings, and carry on about how your team dropped the ball. Wise Americans will not take this personally. Such blamings could be histrionics to impress the boss, or be just part of the unrestrained style that accompanies negotiations in this unique land.

Americans, particularly over the last decades, have become data-imbued, filling our negotiations with long lists of appropriate numbers and lists. Arabs, conversely, have been negotiating since childhood in the marketplace. They are much less inclined to roll out sets of statistics and more likely to wing it based on how conversations develop. It may make them appear unprepared, but never underestimate their negotiative power.

In summing up his Iraq experience, Giaquinto marks it as professionally and personally one of the most rewarding experiences in his life. When true stability resumes, he would like to return as a tourist.

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