My confusion, my lack of understanding of why all this was happening, led me back to Barbara Tuchman and her book The March of Folly:
A phenomenon noticeable throughout history regardless of place or period is the pursuit by governments of policies contrary to their own interests. Mankind, it seems, makes a poorer performance of government than of almost any other human activity. In this sphere, wisdom, which may be defined as the exercise of judgment acting on experience, common sense and available information, is less operative and more frustrated than it should be.
That's how she starts the book.
Unfortunately, Tuchman provides no answers or antidotes for this phenomenon, merely chronicling it, as her subtitle says, "From Troy to Vietnam."
Still, in a very strange way, it is somehow comforting to know that our current leaders are no more idiotic than human leaders have been since the dawn of history.