The United States has ended a war that never should have begun. It has done so under conditions by which it can neither proclaim victory nor admit defeat, because the alleged reasons for invading Iraq were false; the strategy on the ground, wrong; and the objectives, imprecise and changing. Because the weapons of mass destruction that served as an excuse for this war proved to be a deliberate manipulation, its promoters tried to justify it as an effort to bring democracy to Iraq. That is to say, they tried to hide means that were abject, from the beginning, behind a noble cause.

The toll of dead and injured left behind by this war will always be an indictment of those who initiated it, disregarding law and international institutions on behalf of values they betrayed as they invoked them. More than 100,000 Iraqi civilians lost their lives in the conflict, as well as 4,700 coalition soldiers, the majority of whom were Americans. The U.S., on the other hand, spent nearly $800 million in the venture, and Iraq is now a ruined nation with little hope for stability.

Contemplated in perspective, the frivolity of the decisions that led to this war, staged in the Azores summit between Bush, Blair, Aznar and DurĂ£o Barroso, is a testament to the ease with which democratically elected leaders can initiate a sterile tragedy and place the world on the brink of catastrophe, when a lethal mix of messianic megalomania and ideological dreams inspire their actions.

President Obama has ignored the voices that beg him to prolong the presence of combat troops in Iraq beyond the next 31 days, the limit promised for withdrawal during his electoral campaign and which will be reached ahead of schedule. To keep them in place longer would not guarantee that Iraqi forces would be in condition to ensure security for the country; it would serve only to postpone the moment when Iraqis confront a problem that no one will resolve for them. The U.S. is not withdrawing the 50,000 soldiers who are in charge of training new armed forces.

After the March elections, Iraqi political forces continue to fail to reach agreement in forming a government. This has been one of the alleged reasons given by supporters for delaying U.S. withdrawal. But it also could have an opposite effect: While troops were in Iraq, elected leaders failed to take seriously the urgency of their responsibilities. Their country was the victim of a grave injustice, one that not even the presence of a tyrant like Saddam Hussein could justify. But it is now up to the Iraqis to prevent this injustice from delivering victory to those who, after seven years of fighting Americans, will not hesitate to turn arms against fellow citizens in order to subjugate them again.