Posted: Dec 04, 2006 11:07 AM

Statecraft: From the Merriam-Webster Unabridged:

1: The art of conducting state affairs; State management; Statesmanship

2: archaic : wiliness or chicanery in political dealings

Astronomers cannot see planets rotating around distant stars. They know the planets are there because of the gravitational effects the planets have on the stars which the can see.

Similarly, sometimes in politics we have to tease out the truth, not by direct observation, but by, in essence, the gravitational effects.

For instance, the day after Joe Lieberman lost the primary for the nomination for US Senate in Connecticut, every major Democratic figure in the nation endorsed the winner, Ned Lamont.

The gravitational effect that political professionals observed was that NO major Democratic figure called on Lieberman to get out of the race, meaning he (a) was expected to win the general election and (b) would be welcomed back into the Senate club after he did.

See how this works?

Now, lets shift forward to last week when the President was in Amman, Jordan and was supposed to have a dinner meeting with King Abdallah of Jordan and Iraqi Prime Minister al-Maliki.

The person who holds the balance of power in Iraq is an anti-American thug named Muqtada al-Sadr. Al-Sadr controls Iraq's largest Shiite militia and scares the hell out of the national government.

Al-Sadr announced dire consequences if Maliki met with President Bush so everyone was in a bind.

Here's how they unbound themselves:

Stephen Hadley is the President's National Security Advisor - a role he inherited after his predecessor, Condoleezza Rice, became Secretary of State. Hadley went to Iraq to see what was what.

What was what was reduced to writing and sent along to the President in the form of a confidential memo.

With me so far?

That memo, which was not terribly complimentary of Maliki's leadership, was leaked to the New York Times which had the audacity to publish it day before the scheduled dinner was to be held in Amman.

Maliki's people have access to the NY Times and read the memo which, among other things said he is "either ignorant of what is going on, misrepresenting his intentions, or that his capabilities are not yet sufficient to turn his good intentions into action."

Whoa! Not exactly a "Maliki, yer doin' a great job" endorsement from the National Security Advisor.

Maliki suddenly decided he was way, WAY too busy to attend a meeting with the President of the United States and the head of state of his next-door-neighbor and cancelled.

The cancellation was dutifully reported as Maliki "snubbing" the President.

The White House staff played its role in this multi-national Kabuki dance by insisting the memo had nothing whatever to do with the cancellation. The Iraqis claimed the dinner had never been on Maliki's schedule in the first place and therefore it would have been impossible for him to change his plans by walking down the hallway of the same hotel and having a little something to nosh on.

The next morning Maliki cleared his schedule enough to be able to spend some four hours with President Bush, so they got done what they needed to get done.

The gravitational effect we can detect from all this is that Maliki had been put into a box by his supporters - the Shiites - with regard to meeting with the President but Maliki really needed to meet with the President.

So, the US State Department came up with a plan: Leak the memo. Let Maliki feign anger over it and diss the President by being a no-show at dinner, thus calming the waters on both the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers in Baghdad by signaling to the home town folks he didn't have to meet with Bush if he didn't want to.

Pretty smart, really. Good statecraft.

On the Secret Decoder Ring today: Links to the NY Times coverage of the Hadley memo and the AP's reporting on how Maliki played his part in the play. A Mullfoto of the first bumper sticker of the 2008 cycle and a Catchy Caption of the Day.