“The Last Card in the Deck”: The Surge in Iraq

By late-2006, prospects for peace and victory in the Iraq War seemed grim. According to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, it seemed that the President was down to the “last card in the deck.” Against the advice of many military and White House advisers, President Bush doubled down by playing this card: the Surge. This project seeks to illuminate the decision-making process by which President Bush came to announce his January 2007 decision to surge American forces in Iraq.

We have published the findings of this project in two forms:

First, we have published the video and complete transcriptions of the interviews our team conducted. We welcome scholars and the general public alike to view, read, and cite these new and unique sources for our study of American history.*

Second, we have worked with Cornell University Press to publish the book The Last Card: Inside George W. Bush's Decision to Surge in Iraq. Edited by Timothy Andrews Sayle (former CPH Postdoc), Jeffrey Engel (CPH Director), Hal Brands, and William Inboden, this book explores President George W. Bush's decision to surge. The first half of the book tells the story of the Surge decision-making process in the words of the interviewees themselves, edited and sequenced by the book editors. The second half of the book presents eight chapter-length critical assessments of the Surge decision process, written by scholars of American foreign policy, grand strategy, and statecraft. Each of these scholars make use of the new sources provided by the CPH’s Collective Memory Project interviews.

Lead Scholar - Timothy Andrew Sayle

SMU Project Leaders and Editors: Aaron Crawford, Brian Franklin, and Evan McCormick

*The only interview we have not published is the one conducted with President George W. Bush, in accordance with the terms of the agreement between both parties. However, excerpts of that interview have been published throughout the book The Last Card: Inside George W. Bush's Decision to Surge in Iraq (Cornell University Press).

These interviews were completed in partnership with:

Program in American Grand Strategy, Sanford School of Public Policy, Duke University
Clements Center for History, Strategy, and Statecraft, University of Texas at Austin
Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University


George W. Bush
President of the United States (2001-09)

Dick Cheney 

Vice President of the United States (2001-09)


Condoleezza Rice 

United States Secretary of State (2005-09)

Robert Gates 

United States Secretary of Defense (2006-11)

John Abizaid 

Commander, United States Central Command

Joshua Bolten

White House Chief of Staff  (2006-09)

Stephen Cambone 
Under Secretary of Defense for Intelligence (2003-07)


J.D. Crouch 

Deputy Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs (2005-07)

Eric Edelman 

Under Secretary of Defense for Policy


Peter Feaver 
Special Advisor for Strategic Planning and Institutional Reform, National Security Council (2005-07)

David Gordon
Vice Chair, National Intelligence Council

Steve Hadley
Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs (National Security Advisor) (2005-09)

John Hannah 
Assistant for National Security Affairs to the Vice President (2005-09)


James Jeffrey 
Coordinator for Iraq and Senior Advisor to the Secretary of State (2005-06)

Fred Kagan 

Resident Scholar, American Enterprise Institute


Kimberly Kagan

Adjunct professor, Security Studies Program, Georgetown University

Jack Keane 
Defense Policy Board
General, U.S. Army (retired)


Zalmay Khalilzad
United States Ambassador to Iraq (2005-07)


Douglas Lute 
Director of Operations,
Joint Staff (2006-07)

Peter Mansoor
Joint Chiefs of Staff, Strategic Dialogue Group (2006)

Meghan O'Sullivan 
Deputy Assistant to the President & Deputy National Security Advisor for Iraq and Afghanistan (2005-07)

Peter Pace
Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff (2005-07)

Karl Rove
Senior Advisor to the President, and White House Deputy Chief of Staff (2005-07)

David Satterfield
Coordinator for Iraq and Senior Advisor to the Secretary of State


John Sattler
Director of Strategy and Policy, Joint Staff (2006-08)

Daniel Serwer
Executive Director of the Iraq Study Group (2006)

Frank Wolf 

Member, House of Representatives, Virginia’s 10th district (1981-2015)

Philip Zelikow

Counselor of the Department of State