Associated Press
A U.S. marine watches a statue of Saddam Hussein being toppled in Firdaus Square, in downtown Bagdhad in this April 9, 2003 file photo.
Yes, the Middle East is still a deadly cauldron of conflict and thwarted expectations. But having 100,000 Americans fighting in Iraq did nothing to quell those flames.

WASHINGTON — Nearly 4,500 American lives lost. More than 100,000 Iraqi lives lost. More than 32,000 U.S. soldiers gravely wounded. A cost to U.S. taxpayers of more than $800 billion.

Mission accomplished?

As long as there are historians, there will be debate about the war in Iraq, which lasted for nearly nine years.

Even as the war was declared officially over and battle flags were being packed up, Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., was complaining that leaving Iraq was a mistake. Everything gained in Iraq could be lost, he said, adding that Iraq is now vulnerable to Iran and the Taliban in Afghanistan will gain recruits.

McCain said of leaving Iraq: "I continue to believe that this decision represents a failure of leadership, both Iraqi and American … that it was a sad case of political expediency triumphing over military necessity, both in Baghdad and in Washington … and that it will have serious negative consequences for Iraq's stability and our national security interests."

Turning personal, McCain said of the nation's commander in chief, "I believe that history will judge this president's leadership with the scorn and disdain it deserves."

But what was gained in Iraq? Please, please, don't say the death of Saddam Hussein, just one of the world's many cruel dictators, was worth thousands of lives, the destruction of much of the country and $800 billion worth of debt.

Former President George W. Bush initiated a policy of preemptive war when he invaded a country that had no weapons of mass destruction and absolutely nothing to do with 9/11, effectively divorcing the United States from the belief that it would never be the country to start a war.

Yes, Iraq now has held elections. Marking the official end of the war Wednesday at Fort Bragg, N.C., President Barack Obama said: "We're leaving behind a sovereign, stable and self-reliant Iraq, with a representative government that was elected by its people. We're building a new partnership between our nations."

But corruption is viral in Iraq. The country's infrastructure is rubble. Even the capital of Baghdad does not have electricity for more than a few hours a day. The religious rivalry between the Sunnis and Shias is getting more intense. Iran's ambitions are no longer constrained by a powerful Iraq. And millions of Iraqis hate America.

Despite McCain's warning, we had to leave Iraq. The Iraqis did not want us to stay. We had no legal legitimacy to stay. And if American soldiers remained in Iraq, they would have been subject to being tried in Iraqi courts for war crimes or any other charges it suited the Iraqi legal system to bring.

As it is, we are installing the world's largest embassy in Iraq, where as many as 17,000 Americans, guarded by about 200 military personnel, will work to keep Iraq an ally.

Yes, the Middle East is still a deadly cauldron of conflict and thwarted expectations. But having 100,000 Americans fighting in Iraq did nothing to quell those flames.

Obama said history would judge the merits of the war. But he believes that historians will conclude that invading Iraq for nearly nine years was the wrong war at the wrong time. History will not treat George W. Bush or Richard Cheney well.

When Obama and Defense Secretary Leon Panetta spoke about the end of the war, they did not talk about the merits of the war. They did the only thing they could: emphasize their praise for the American men and women who fought and died there serving their country and the families who stood by them.

There is no jubilation in America over the end of the long, fruitless war in Iraq. The only positive legacy of that war was the courage of America's competent men and women in uniform and the patriotism and steadfastness of their families.

And, lest we forget, there are still 100,000 Americans fighting, being injured and dying in Afghanistan.

Ann McFeatters has covered the White House and national politics since 1986. Email: [email protected]