"The War Within" begins portraying the Iraq chaos in 2006 - violence and American casualties are increasing, while Bush portrays a rosy picture and his staff realize our strategy needs to be reviewed. Bush agrees, but the "really bad news" is that this strategy review had no deadline and the emphasis was on it being conducted "under the radar" to avoid causing consternation during an election year.
General Casey, head of U.S. forces in Iraq, is trying to convince Bush to reduce troops in Iraq - we were making the Iraqis dependent on us and our large pressure was a sign of disrespect for them. He and General Abizaid had seen how the ethnic groups in the Balkans didn't reconcile until the violence got totally out of hand. Nonetheless, Bush seemed plugged into an attrition strategy (keep killing them until they run out of bodies), but Vietnam had proved that didn't work. Rumsfeld supported Casey - in fact, this was in line with his "new, light" Army vision.
Bush's decision-making style was "gut driven" - thus, his decisions lacked a process to examine consequences, alternatives, and motives. Further, he refused to allow talks with Iran and Syria - even though wanted by his area chief, Admiral Fallon. Finally, lacking deadlines, strategy reviews were underway, but with no seeming movement to fruition.
Retired General Jack Keane emerges as the hero in all this internal chaos, warfare, and delay. Being a member of the Defense Policy Board, he had access to up-to-date information on Iraq, and was encouraged by fellow member Newt Gingrich to take his thoughts to Rumsfeld. Keane's one-man, self-initiated effort outperformed those of all the other groups (eg. NSC, WH consultants, the Iraq Study Group, the Pentagon) and he is the father of the surge and other key ideas.
Keane's ideas included getting troops out 24/7 within the people, away from their air-conditioned based with movie theaters, swimming pools, etc., to protect the people from insurgents, stopping Casey's "ramp-down" (undermined motivation for the troops to risk their lives), doubling the size of the Iraqi security force to 600,000, extending tours to support the surge, strengthening the advisory program (often staffed by National Guard troops who had less experience than the Iraqis they were coaching), moving away from vehicle to foot patrols (less subject to IED damage, better able to obtain intelligence), learn form Col. McMaster's achievements in Tall Afar, increase the number of CIA analysts focusing on Iraq (had only 38 - fewer than those working on China) and bring the DIA intelligence staffing on Iraq (then 61) up to authorized (156), and focus on winning the war in Baghdad.
Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Pace then asked Keane for feedback on his own performance. Keane told Pace that he was failing - not spending enough time on Iraq, and being satisfied with superficial reports. At the same time, American generals in Iraq were working too hard (eg. Gen. MacArthur took time to watch a movie every evening), not allowing them the ability to step back and develop fresh thinking. Keane went on to recommend Petraeus to take over in Iraq, Col. McMaster to be part of a strategy review team, and Admiral Fallon to be appointed in charge of the entire Mid-East area. All these recommendations were accepted.
Petraeus' implementation of Keane's ideas included using ever-expanding concrete barriers that prevented vehicles carrying explosives or rocket-propelled grenades from entering areas once cleared. Petraeus found that the first areas U.S. troops went into were ghost towns - everyone driven out by the insurgents. Another Petraeus contribution was to start thinking about identifying which of the combatant groups could be convinced to stop fighting. Meanwhile, Keane went about assuring that a realistic timeframe was kept in mind - 12-18 months, not the 6 months that so many hoped for.
Admiral Fallon, unfortunately, quickly ended up butting heads with Petraeus over troop increase requests because he was convinced that there were too many troops that were not being effectively used. This led to his replacement.
Readers also learn that Maliki was a major problem, though understandably so - caught between three strong factions. For whatever reason, however, he improved after Petraeus arrived, allowing the pursuit/killing of 50 Shia militia leaders in a row.
Another key point was that tribal leaders with their 90,000+ fighters became very important as they turned against Al Qaeda and were enlisted by Petraeus' forces in the insurgency fight.
Bottom Line: Absent retired General Keane (resisted by the JCS), and then General Petraeus' innovations in support, the Iraq War would be a totally lost cause. Other factors besides the surge included improved intelligence targeting insurgent leaders, Al Qaeda overplaying its hand with its gruesome violence, creating resentment by Sunni leaders, and the Shiite forces adopting a cease-fire when it became clear that many of their own people were being hurt by the fighting.