We didn't say that. Leon Panetta, the most productive member of the Obama Administration, said that.
And, of course, it's true. No, the Taliban and Al Qaida weren't based in Iraq. But Saddam was part of the Middle Eastern nastiness that gives rise to such groups, and everyone in the neighborhood was glad to have him gone as part of the American response to the war coming to the homeland.
The Daily Beast article linked above is worth reading for its larger analysis as well, because it comes from the sublime Fouad Ajami, who makes more sense of the Middle East than anyone alive. We extensively quote:
Perhaps the rift over Iraq can never be healed. But in the presidency of Barack Obama, and the stewardship of Leon Panetta, we might yet come to a reckoning with Iraq’s place in the broader scheme of the Pax Americana. We have gains in Iraq, and they are worth protecting. We have not remade Iraq—it continues to test our patience, its leaders are given to the obligatory expressions of anti-Americanism typical of that Arab-Islamic landscape. The Iraqis need the American presence, and the American training and air cover, but are too proud and timid to admit it. We have not hatched a perfect democracy on the Tigris, and this we know. But the center holds in that country, and in proximity to the brutal regimes in Iran and Syria, Iraq appears to be a place where America had not labored in vain.
In this time of great turmoil in the Arab world, Iraq had not come apart, its army has not turned against its people. Panetta’s predecessor, Robert Gates, himself no friend of the Iraq War, conceded this truth about Iraq in his final days in office. In a tone of wonder, he said that Iraq has emerged as “the most advanced Arab democracy in the region.” Iraqis weren’t “in the streets shooting each other, the government wasn’t in the streets shooting its people,” he added. The scenarios of Iraq’s fragmentation along ethnic and sectarian lines—once so dear to Vice President Joe Biden—have not materialized. The Iraqi example hadn’t launched that Arab Spring, but there can be no denying the inspiration given Arabs beyond Iraq by the spectacle of Saddam Hussein being flushed out of his spider hole. He had been a proud rooster, and Arabs in Tunis and Cairo and Benghazi could henceforth imagine a similar fate for the roosters in their midst.
We needn’t trumpet in public that a residual American presence in Iraq would help monitor Iran next door. This would be no help to the Iraqis. In the nature of things, Iraq’s leaders will have to reiterate that they are neutral in the standoff between Iran and the United States, and that their country will not serve as a base for American military operations in Iraq’s neighborhood. Still, the American presence in Iraq will have a deterrent value in our dealings with Iran.
Let the erstwhile critics of the Iraq War now see, and defend, its gains. It would be too much to ask of them to own up to the errors of years past. Suffice it that they do the right thing, and that they nurture what their predecessors had secured.