Ezra Klein essentially frames the victory of Osama bin Laden, bankrupter of superpowers, over George W. Bush, overreactive chickenhawk:
We didn’t need to respond to 9/11 by trying to reshape the entire Middle East [as bin Laden suckered us into doing], but we’re a superpower, and we think on that scale.
I would protest the "we." Certainly the Bushies thought, which is to say, grossly miscalculated, on that scale, but their marketing of neoconservative fatuity was based on similarly gross misrepresentations to the body politic, which only followed.
Now, one can argue, as I have many times, that the public should have been less gullible. On the other hand, in this, the world's longest-running representative democracy, there has existed a mutual socio-political understanding that "we" would permit our government the greatest benefits of doubt, so long as our government did not abuse its immense powers to wrongly persuade. Bush wasn't the first to abuse those powers -- the presidencies of Polk, McKinley, L.B. Johnson and Nixon were, notably, serial abusers of the truth -- but he was enough of a criminal anomaly to (partially) excuse a credulous population.
Hence to my mind, there is more "he" -- indeed "they" -- than "we" in the assignment of national culpability. To their discredit, the American people are rather easy to rile. Yet we are not, primordially, a warlike people; we soon find warfare both tedious and wasteful, and prefer to exit from it sooner than later. What is indispensably required and commonly expected in this contradictory mix, however, are national leaders of decency, dignity, honor and honesty.
In George Bush, Dick Cheney, Don Rumsfeld et al, we had none of those qualities. And sure enough, the world's most perceptive criminal knew just how to exploit their corrupt failings. He snookered them "big time," as Junior's keeper liked to say, and with unremarkable ease -- for it is exceptionally hard to exploit honorable men.