The War Within

The inside story of how President Bush's team dealt with its failing Iraq strategy  

Dissension   |   Key Players   |   Timeline: Road to the Surge  |  About This Series
“We’re not playing for a tie.”
President Bush

Realized in the summer of 2006 that his Iraq policy was failing and later said, "The question is, when you're in my position: If it's not working, what do you do?" To the eventual dismay of his top military advisers in Washington and Baghdad, concluded that a surge of U.S. forces was necessary to reduce the violence in Iraq. Asserted that "the goal is radical action to achieve victory" because "the consequences of defeat would be a disaster for future generations."

“At some moment if you've got your hand on the bicycle seat, you have to let it go.”
Donald H. Rumsfeld - Secretary of Defense
Wanted to stick with the strategy of building up the Iraq security forces so that U.S. troops could begin to withdraw. Despite earlier assurances of confidence in Rumsfeld, Bush announced his resignation just after the 2006 midterm elections.

“I’m not getting any feedback.”
Gen. Peter Pace - Chairman of the Joint Chiefs
The chiefs, worried that the armed forces were stretched to the breaking point and could not respond to an unexpected crisis elsewhere, opposed a sizable surge. Pace tried to present their concerns to President Bush, but said he could "only get part of it before him." Replaced in October 2007 by Adm. Michael Mullen.

“I feel like Nero did when Rome was burning.”
Gen. Peter Schoomaker - Army Chief of Staff
Outraged that the White House was taking military advice from outsiders, including retired Gen. Jack Keane. Asked directly about his opposition to a surge, he told Bush, "You're stressing the force, Mr. President, and these kids just see deployments to Iraq or Afghanistan for the indefinite future."

“They're orchestrating this to dump in our laps.”
Adm. Michael Mullen - Chief of Naval Operations, Pace's Replacement
Opposed the surge and voiced concern that the military was being set up to assume the blame for failed Iraq strategy. "I am still searching for the grand strategy here," he said. "We have so many other issues and challenges Afghanistan, Pakistan, North Korea and places we are not even thinking about today."

“To win, we have to draw down.”
Gen. George W. Casey Jr. - Commander, U.S. Forces in Iraq
Felt that Bush didn't understand the nature of the war. Like Rumsfeld, wanted to speed a transfer of power to the Iraqis. Advocated leave-to-win strategy, but also decided to postpone a planned troop withdrawal in July 2006, citing the escalating violence. Opposed the five-brigade surge: "It is going against everything that we've been working on for the last two and a half years." Eventually accepted idea of two-brigade surge, but came to believe he had lost Bush's confidence.

“The surge is coming. Get out of the way.”
Gen. John P. Abizaid - Commander, U.S. Central Command
Like Casey, believed that the U.S. military's continuing large-scale presence in Iraq did more harm than good. In August, warned Congress that the escalating sectarian violence could result in civil war. Also opposed the five-brigade option, but later warned Casey that they could not stop it.

“We've got to pull this together now...and give the president some options.”
Stephen J. Hadley - National Security Adviser
For months, urged a comprehensive review of the Iraq strategy, but felt that any such review needed to take place "under the radar screen because the electoral season is so hot." On July 22, with Bush's blessing, engineered a quiet campaign to ensure that the surge would become the leading option. Bush said later, "Let's just cut to the chase here. Hadley drove a lot of this."

“It's hell, Mr. President.”
Meghan O'Sullivan - Deputy National Security Adviser
Told Hadley, in a July 2006 memo, that the "train to leave" strategy was no longer valid. After overseeing a secret strategy review at Hadley's direction, wrote a memo that included a surge of up to 30,000 forces as one possibility, calling it the "double down" option and the one that had the "highest likelihood of securing success as we have defined it."

“It was going to be ugly one way or another.”
Condoleezza Rice - Secretary of State
In early August, told the president that the very fabric of Iraqi society was rending. The Iraqis, she said, weren't going to have anything to build on if the sectarian violence continued unchecked. Questioned what more troops would do in Iraq, warning that if the surge failed, it would be "the last card." Eventually supported Bush's decision, telling him "I think you probably have to do it."

David Satterfield - Senior Adviser and the Department's Iraq Coordinator
Believed adding U.S. forces would not quell the violence in the long run. Didn't trust the military's progress reports on the training of Iraqi security forces. Called the numbers "bogus." Expressed skepticism about whether the United States could succeed in Iraq, and believed the president had made matters worse by "talking about Iraq as if all America's hopes rested on the outcome."

Philip Zelikow - Counselor to the State Department
Along with Satterfield, co-authored a 12-page classified paper in November 2006 proposing an "arm's length" relationship with Iraq, a middle course between adding forces and withdrawing.

Text by Steve Luxenberg, Brady Dennis - The Washington Post, Amanda Zamora -;
Design by Noel Smart -

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