Without reinforcements from the United States, it would have been an enormously ambitious undertaking. But one of the main obstacles was bureaucratic. Casey had sponsored previous Red Team efforts and saw the report as a means to draw the embassy more into the war effort. But when the Red Team suggested wholesale changes to his military strategy, it was more than Casey had bargained for, one of his former aides said.
The Red Team approach posited a three-year campaign to defeat the insurgents and advanced a plan for concentrating American forces in insurgent-infested areas, which was inconsistent with Casey's vision of progressively handing over the fight to the Iraqis and making troop cuts in 2006 and 2007.
When it came time for the team to brief some of its conclusions on Aug. 23, Casey made it clear that he did not accept the rationale behind much of the report. The team never even got around to presenting its PowerPoint slides. Two weeks later, one of Casey's senior officers approached Reider and said that the general had heard that the Red Team had been pressured to go along with the ink-spot approach by Strmecki. Reider denied it.
In his own post-mortem on the war, which is to be published by National Defense University, it is clear that Casey did not give the Red Team report much weight: he noted only that it made some useful suggestions on how to better integrate the coalition's economic, political, and military efforts. In December 2005, Casey would hold his own Campaign Progress Review, which concluded that for all the challenges, there were "clear grounds for optimism." (When President Bush opted for a five-brigade "surge" in 2007, Casey still insisted that not all of the forces were needed.)
Still, Khalilzad brought a copy of the Red Team report to Washington and mentioned it to Stephen Hadley, Bush's national security advisor, who suggested that it might be submitted through military channels, a former official recalled. But with Casey opposed to the concept, that was unlikely. A member of the British team passed a copy up his chain of command and it eventually made its way to British Prime Minister Tony Blair. By and large, however, the report vanished from sight.
Too little, too late?
The failure to confront the inconvenient facts about America's faltering strategy in Iraq in 2005 had significant consequences. Bush's eventual decision to begin a military surge in Iraq in 2007 and to appoint Petraeus as commander pulled Iraq out of a worsening civil war. The surge strategy succeeded beyond any reasonable expectation in diminishing Al Qaeda in Iraq and tamping down the sectarian violence. It also served as a catalyst for the Sunni Awakening, which would make its way from Anbar to the area surrounding Baghdad and, finally, to the Iraqi capital itself.
But if the strategy change had come earlier, a longer surge might have led to more progress in establishing a more inclusive Iraqi government and improving the poor performance of Iraq's ministries -- issues that still bedevil Iraq today. Those questions might have been tackled sooner in an improved security environment and when American influence was at its height. An earlier surge might have saved treasure and, more importantly, lives.
The episode also raises some pertinent questions about the Obama administration's strategy today in Afghanistan, where the United States military mounted a surge that ended last week. The transition to an Afghan lead and the closing of American bases is being executed with all of the mechanistic rigidity of the United States' initial Iraq strategy.
I tracked down Reider, who has retired from the Army and teaches at the Army's Command and General Staff College at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas. What lessons, I asked, did he draw from the episode?
"You always hear senior leaders talking about the need to adapt," he said. "The plan we had in Iraq was not working and people who had worked on that plan did not want to accept that. This was an opportunity to adapt, and we did not take that opportunity."