What do all those that said these things think now?
The war in Iraq was indeed a quagmire, in that many, MANY people died needlessly on both sides. In fact, the U.S almost succeeded in snatching defeat from the jaws of victory. The summer of 2003 was the make-or-break moment for the U.S and the ball was dropped big time.
This was not the fault of the U.S military but the fault of civillian politicians who refused to admit their mistakes and made decisions based on ideology rather than the reality on the ground. The commander of the U.S army, General Shinseki, basically told the SecDef at point blank that he was inviting a protracted, bloody engagement because he didn't allocate sufficient troops -and- didn't have a proper plan for security and reconstruction. Lengthy reports by the CIA also said the exact same thing. Rumsfeld's response? He fired General Shinseki and ignored the reports.
Well, Shinseki was right. Because the U.S had no concise plan for security and reconstruction and didn't have the right resources in place, a protracted engagement followed. This could have been completely avoided.
What was a small flame of discontent for the average Iraqi became a roaring inferno when Paul Bremmer, the first ruler of Iraq after Saddam, completely disbanded the Iraqi army -and- fired everyone who was a member of the baath party. This turned several hundred thousand men with military training into unemployed, disenfranchised folks who were prime candidates for the insurgency. Firing the entire army and most of the police was completely unnecessary because the vast majority of the Iraqi army DID NOT fight the U.S when it invaded, as most of the soldiers themselves (as did most of the Iraqis in general) truly did want a change from Saddam.
The insurgency was further fueled by the gutting of critical jobs- engineers who ran power and water treatment plants were fired (because they had ties to the baath party) doctors and teachers were let go, basically most of the folks necessary to keeping a nation going were removed overnight.
This led to the erosion of the basic fabric of society- things that most people take for granted like law enforcement, reliable electricity, potable water, phone and postal system, even garbage removal barely functioned or disapeared entirely in some areas. This further fanned the flames of discontent, especially when the manpower and skills necessary to fix these basic problems were present in abundance but forcibly unemployed for political reasons. When "reconstruction" did happen, it was carried out by foreign companies charging exorbitant fees (which were paid by you, the U.S taxpayer) for work that was extremely shoddy and often woefully inadequate. This further enraged folks.
Fast forward six bloody years (six bloody years, again, that are the fault of an administration that refused to admit it messed up and stuck to ideology and dogma) and only now, today, have things -somewhat- calmed down.
Let's look at the reasons why things in Iraq calmed down-
1) General Petraeus
2) General Petraeus
For several years, the Bush Administration's big plan was to hope that a competent military leader would magically step in and make things right. That pretty much sums it up in a nutshell. Until the time that a 'magic bullet' commander materialized, Bush was more than happy to let Iraqis and U.S soldiers die, as he just kept repeating on "staying the course" with absolutely NO plan whatsoever to deal with a fucked up situation.
After chewing up and spitting out several theatre commanders, finally they got lucky with Petraeus. However, his solution was very novel and contradicts EVERY single thing that we've been fed about the war on terror.
While we are told that the "surge" of 30,000 troops (which was actually 45,000 troops FYI) and new counter-terror tactics were the reason for the success, it's much simpler.
Petraeus bought off the insurgents. He cut a deal with the core of the Sunni insurgency, whereby in exchange for not shooting at U.S troops, many of the folks who were previously "terrorists" suddenly were on the U.S payroll, got to keep their arms, were given local control of security in their neighbourhoods and so forth. Many of these groups formed or were affiliated with the Awakening Council in Iraq.
Interesting isn't it? Cheney said that in regards to terrrorists, "we don't negotiate with evil", but that's exactly what the U.S did.
This had several interesting side effects- once the core of the Sunni insurgency stopped fighting, it illustrated how weak Al Qaida (spelling?) in Iraq really was, and how few foreign terrorists in Iraq there really were- it illustrated that contrary to talking points, the majority of those fighting the U.S (and Shiite groups is a whole other matter I'm not addressing for sake of brevity) were homegrown Iraqis. The very same "terrorists" were now on the U.S payroll.
So, to summarize, the U.S invaded Iraq, and fumbled so badly that several years of bloody warfare occured that could have been avoided entirely. The solution was ultimately to cut deals with both the Shiite and Sunni groups that were resisting them, and pay them off. The Shiites got a political pay-off, winning control of most of the country, while the Sunnis got a monetary pay-off AND a much needed truce from the sectarian warfare that was wiping them out slowly but surely.
Tens of thousands of Iraqis (or more) died needlessly. 4,252 U.S military were killed and over 30,000 wounded. The psychological toll, mental health problems and PTSD is another price being paid by many thousands of returned servicemen. The economic cost to the U.S, by the time all is said and done between money already spent, replacing equipment and VA costs will be over 3.5 trillion dollars (remember that Bush, Wolfowitz, Feith and Rumsfeld all said the U.S would only be there in force for six months and the cost would be paid entirely with Iraqi oil revenues)
Moreover, the costs of the Iraq war have never been paid with actual money- it's all gone on credit, meaning now you (the U.S taxpayer) must pay the compound interest from the trillions spent on Iraq.
Furthermore, in closing, Obama doesn't have much of a choice in his withdrawal.
1) The U.S can no longer afford such expensive military operations overseas, due to the current economic conditions.
AND a very important point-
2) The U.S CANNOT stay in Iraq until any later than 2012 (have to double check exact date) This is because the Iraqi government basically passed a law stating that the U.S MUST get out of the country by then, with the exception of a few air bases outside of urban centers.
Also, the Iraqis never signed the oh-so important SOF (status of forces) agreement that the U.S wanted them to without making major provisions that soured the Pentagon big time on staying in country for a long time. Unlike the SOF agreements signed in Germany, Korea, Japan and the Phillipinnes U.S service personnel aren't afforded very many protections and can be tried under Iraqi law rather than being turned over the U.S MP's as is the norm.
And once the U.S does leave Iraq, who's next door? I think there's a nation called Iran, who has very heavy political influence on the ruling Shiite majority. So to say that the U.S has "won" a war of choice that cost far, FAR more than the wildest of initial estimates and which said "victory" was won by buying off those who were shooting at you in the first place, means a pretty wide definition for victory.
You are correct in stating that this is good news- people not getting killed anymore is indeed a victory. The path travelled to reach that victory however, was completely unecessary!