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Risky gambit altered the Iraq war

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in Leaders & Managers

After his first tour of duty in Iraq, featuring a no-holds-barred, kill-and-capture approach, Army Gen. Raymond Odierno was the last guy anybody thought would come back for his second tour and start pushing almost the opposite approach.

Neither was Odierno the type to buck an entire chain of command.

The idea at the time was to hand over security to the Iraqis, and the sooner the better. To Odierno, that looked like yet another rush to failure.

He decided the U.S. strategy needed to change.

Not finding a receptive ear, Odierno took a risky move. He bypassed his commanding officers and launched an almost daily guerrilla campaign, pitching a new strategy directly to retired Gen. Jack Keane in Washington, an influential former Army vice chief of staff with the ears of key White House and military staff.

The gamble worked. President Bush agreed to a surge, and as the U.S. presence increased, the fighting slowed.

Now, as the U.S. commander in Iraq, instead of trying to subdue the Iraqis through sheer force, Odierno is nudging them to take advantage of this quiet interlude and reconcile. But Odierno is wondering whether the fledgling peace can be sustained.

If not, he may have to change tack again.

— Adapted from “The Dissenter Who Changed the War,” Thomas E. Ricks, The Washington Post.

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