They came in as unreformed Cold Warriors, only lacking a cold war — and looking for an enemy: a Russia to roll back even further; rogue states like Saddam’s rickety dictatorship to smash. They were still in the old fight, eager to make sure that the "Evil Empire," already long down for the count, would remain prostrate forever; eager to ensure that any new evil empire like, say, China’s would never be able to stand tall enough to be a challenge. They saw opportunities to move into areas previously beyond the reach of American imperial power like the former SSRs of the Soviet Union in Central Asia, which just happened to be sitting on potentially fabulous undeveloped energy fields; or farther into the even more fabulously energy-rich Middle East, where Saddam’s Iraq, planted atop the planet’s third largest reserves of petroleum, seemed so ready for a fall — with other states in the region visibly not far behind.
It looked like it would be a coming-out party for one–the debutante ball of the season. It would be, in fact, like the Cold War without the Soviet Union. What a blast! And they could still put their energies into their fabulously expensive, ever-misfiring anti-missile system, a subject they regularly focused on from January 2000 until September 10, 2001.
They were Cold Warriors in search of an enemy–just not the one they got. When the Clintonistas, on their way out of the White House, warned them about al Qaeda, they paid next to no attention. Non-state actors were for wusses. When the CIA carefully presented the President with a one-page, knock-your-socks-off warning on August 6, 2001 that had the screaming headline, "Bin Laden determined to strike in U.S.," they ignored it. Bush and his top officials were, as it happened, strangely adrift until September 11, 2001; then, they were panicked and terrified — until they realized that their moment had come to hijack the plane of state; so they clambered aboard, and like the Cold Warriors they were, went after Saddam. In the process, they crashed that plane of state into Iraq, creating a classic Cold War disaster (which is why Vietnam analogies always come to mind) in another era. No small trick.