No one can know for sure what the future holds for Iraq, the rest of the Middle East and the turbulent Arab world.
We do know two things.
U.S. military men and women have served with courage and dedication -- in many cases over and over again -- in an Iraq war more than 8 years old in which it was often hard to sort friend from foe, in miserable conditions of heat and body armor, against the hidden killers of improvised explosive devices and suicide bombers.
What began as a war waged under false pretenses -- the weapons of mass destruction never materialized -- became a front in the war on terror and an exercise in nation-building after the tyranny of Saddam Hussein. The goal became a stable, democratic Iraq -- or at least a relatively stable Iraq, friendly to U.S. interests and a regional counter to Iran.
Did the United States succeed at that? Time will tell. The smart money is skeptical. Patience -- not a hallmark of current U.S. life -- means we have to wait for history's judgment, and even that may be suspect.
There was nothing suspect in the performance of the vast majority of U.S. troops, who deserve our gratitude and respect. More than 4,400 troops died in the war; more than 32,000 were wounded. Many are neighbors, friends and family.
The U.S. and Iraq couldn't come to terms about leaving a residual American force of several thousand troops to continue training Iraqi soldiers and police -- and to serve as a reminder to Iran that the U.S. could always return in force. Iraqi leadership is split over whether the Americans should stay. That division itself suggests we leave. So did the Iraqi refusal to grant U.S. troops immunity for any actions they might have to take. The presence of foreign troops, no matter how well-intentioned, can grate on a nation and create problems of its own. In the end, it's up to Iraqis to build and define their nation.
Now is the time for that end. A war that showed the quality and ability of the men and women in our military has severely strained that military and the nation at large.
U.S. forces must and will still keep the watch in distant places. But President Obama is right to focus more on the home front now. Afghanistan is war enough. Part of that home front focus needs to include jobs and futures for the troops who served and still serve in Iraq. May they have a safe passage home and a warm welcome when they arrive.