Presidential candidate Barack Obama rose to prominence as a fierce critic of the war in Iraq, but there was little of that spirit on display when he, as president, delivered a subdued, dignified address to the nation Tuesday night.

It was the kind of speech we are now used to hearing from Obama, one that details incremental progress on a problem that’s not going away.

As a candidate, Obama called the conflict a “dumb war” and was highly critical of the way that it had been conceived and carried out. Most observers now agree that many serious errors were made: There was no arsenal of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, there were not enough coalition forces to maintain order, and despite an initial welcome, U.S. troops became seen as an occupying force and the target of insurgents.

But Obama’s speech marking the withdrawal of combat troops did not attempt to reargue the case against the war. Instead, he talked about the tremendous sacrifice made by the men and women in service and made generous statements about his predecessor, President George W. Bush, the war’s chief author.

Critics will say that Obama did not give Bush or the military credit for the 2007 troop surge, which was opposed by many Democrats but is now regarded as a key strategic move that turned the tide against the insurgency.

Although he did not use the word “surge,” Obama was clearly describing and crediting the strategy designed and implemented at Bush’s order by Gen. David Petreaus when he said, “They shifted tactics to protect the Iraqi people, trained Iraqi security forces and took out terrorist leaders. Because of our troops and civilians Iraq has the opportunity to embrace a new destiny, even though many challenges remain.”

The war was a success by one measure — the removal of Saddam Hussein, a tyrant and a destabilizing force in the region. It’s too soon to know whether the war succeeded in another goal — enabling democracy to take root in Iraq — or how that might affect the rest of the Arab world.

It’s not too soon to know that the commitment of combat forces in Iraq has been more costly, in lives, money and international prestige, than most of the American public ever expected.

That’s why the tone struck by President Obama, no longer a candidate, was the right one.