As President Bush begins his last year in the White House, the security situation in Iraq moves in an unmistakably positive direction.
Violence is down across the board. There are fewer attacks, fewer Iraqis dying and fewer Americans getting killed.
U.S. commanders in Iraq have begun slowly reducing the number of American troops in the country. There are even some limited but tangible signs of political progress.
That's the good news. It's real. It's measurable.
For now, it looks as if Gen. David Petraeus' counterinsurgency strategy combined with the president's decision to send 30,000 more troops to Iraq in 2007 has yielded some real results.
The success has also moved to Iraq, for the most part, off the front pages of the newspapers and made it a less central issue on the campaign trail — for now.
It's unclear, however, whether this progress will last as American troops begin to return home. And even if it does, historians may look harshly at the high costs of the war and the mistakes made along the way.
Bush's Legacy: The Costs of Iraq
First, the costs:
Nearly 4,000 U.S. troops have died in Iraq. Nearly 30,000 have been injured. Through September 2007, the Iraq War cost taxpayers $378 billion and continues to cost nearly $10 billion a month.
There are also costs that can't be measured.
More than 1 million U.S. servicemen and women have served in Iraq, many of them several times. Their personal sacrifice is not measured in government statistics.
But their long deployments — soldiers currently serve 15 months at a time in Iraq — mean an untold number of missed holidays, missed birthdays and time away from family that takes an immeasurable toll. For those in the National Guard and the Reserve, time in Iraq has also meant time away from their jobs.
It wasn't supposed to be this way.
Shortly before the war started, on Feb. 7, 2003, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld was asked how long the war would last.
His answer: "It is unknowable how long that conflict will last. It could last six days, six weeks. I doubt six months."
Rumsfeld's prediction was echoed days before the invasion by Vice President Dick Cheney, who said on NBC's "Meet the Press," "My belief is we will, in fact, be greeted as liberators."
The war, Cheney said, will go "relatively quickly, in weeks rather than months."
That was five years ago.
As for the monetary costs, Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz predicted that the reconstruction of Iraq could cost U.S. taxpayers virtually nothing.
"We're dealing with a country that can really finance its own reconstruction, and relatively soon," he told the House Appropriations Committee on March 27, 2003.
There would be consequences to those rosy predictions as the Pentagon failed to plan for the bloody insurgency that would come after the fall of Saddam Hussein's government.
There was at least one top military official, however, who had a more realistic view. Here's what Army Chief of Staff Eric Shinseki said before the Senate Armed Services committee Feb. 25, 2003, just three weeks before the war started.
SEN. CARL LEVIN: Gen. Shinseki, could you give us some idea as to the magnitude of the Army's force requirement for an occupation of Iraq following a successful completion of the war?
SHINSEKI: In specific numbers, I would have to rely on combatant commanders' exact requirements. But I think —
LEVIN: How about a range?
SHINSEKI: I would say that what's been mobilized to this point — something on the order of several hundred thousand soldiers are probably, you know, a figure that would be required. We're talking about post-hostilities control over a piece of geography that's fairly significant, with the kinds of ethnic tensions that could lead to other problems. And so it takes a significant ground force presence.
The Pentagon firmly disputed Shinseki's assessment.
In a rare public rebuke of a four-star general, Wolfowitz called Shinseki's estimate of the number of troops required "wildly off the mark."
Why would you need so many forces if American troops are going to be greeted as liberators?
At present there are now 160,000 U.S. troops in Iraq and more than 300,000 American-trained Iraqi security forces.
The combined force adds up, roughly, to the "several hundred thousand soldiers" Shinseki predicted would be required to secure the country.
Bush's Legacy: Iraq and the Next President
So, what next for the United States in Iraq?
Defense Secretary Robert Gates says he hopes to withdraw the 30,000 troops sent in as the "surge" by July 2008 and to continue withdrawing at the same rate for the rest of the year.
That's a best-case scenario.
Security setbacks could mean a slower withdrawal. That means when the next president is sworn in Jan. 20, 2009, there will be at least 100,000 U.S. troops on the ground in Iraq, and possibly quite a few more.