US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said on Friday that she was "proud" of the US decision to invade Iraq and said the Middle East had improved since President George W Bush took office.
In an interview with Bloomberg television, Rice also cited progress in North Korea and China as evidence that the Bush administration, which has just seven months left in office, had made strides over the past eight years.
"I am proud by the decision of this administration to overthrow Saddam Hussein. I am proud of the liberation of 20 million Iraqis," Rice said in the interview taped earlier in the week.
"Iraq has been very tough. Tougher than any of us had dreamed. We can never replace the people who have been lost. We can never do anything to soothe the pain of the family and friends that they have left behind, but we are seeing a change in Iraq for the better," she said.
The interview aired as the United States marked the Independence Day holiday. The US military has lost 4,113 personnel since the March 2003 invasion, according to independent website www.icasualties.org.
"In the post-9/11 environment, you could not let a threat to peace exist. I know that great historical events go through difficult phases and often emerge with the world left for the better."
Rice said Iran had suffered "setbacks" and al-Qaeda was "on its heels," while democracy had made a "breakthrough" with women voting in Kuwait, "democratic forces" emerging in the Palestinian territories and "a democracy at the centre of the Arab world in Iraq."
"We're now beginning to see that perhaps it's not so popular to be a suicide bomber. We're beginning to see that perhaps people are questioning whether Osama bin Laden ought to really be the face of Islam," she said.
Rice also said progress was being made on North Korea's nuclear disarmament, and that the North Koreans were "putting themselves out of the business of making plutonium."
"With all due respect to those who look at this deal and say somehow North Korea has gotten a great deal, I think one can say that this is a really good step for non-proliferation," Rice said.