Obama, Media Go Quiet on Historic Mideast Catastrophe

While the press was focused on the Hillary-Trump debate, Iranian-backed rebels fired two missiles at the USS Mason off Yemen. The Associated Press describes the incident:

The Navy says the missile launch Sunday night landed in the water before getting near the USS Mason.

Lt. Ian McConnaughey, a Navy spokesman, said Monday it's unclear if the Mason was specifically targeted, though the missiles were fired in its direction.

The missile launches comes after an Emirati ship was targeted several days ago by missiles apparently fired by Shiite rebels in Yemen known as Houthis and their allies.

The unsuccessful strike on the Mason follows the destruction of the HSV-2 Swift, a logistics vessel operated by the UAE capable of 45 knots, by two anti-ship missiles -- probably the C-801 or C-802. The USS Mason was part of a three-ship flotilla dispatched to the area after the Swift had been gutted:

The U.S. Navy has dispatched to the strait two destroyers, the USS Mason and USS Nitze, and the USS Ponce -- the last of these a floating staging ship which includes a compliment of special operations forces.

“Sending the warships to the area is a message that the primary goal of the Navy is to ensure that shipping continues unimpeded in the strait and the vicinity,” said a U.S. defense official.

Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), which is in charge of Tehran’s extraterritorial military activities, is believed to be arming the Houthis with missiles and rockets, including a variant of the Zelzal-3 artillery rocket that was unveiled in August and stationed near the Saudi border.

The war in Yemen has been steadily escalating in the shadow of headline-grabbing events in Aleppo and Mosul. Recently a Saudi air strike which killed 140 people and wounded as many as 350 more briefly seized the spotlight:

In one of the deadliest attacks of the country’s civil war, which Saudi Arabia entered in March 2015, airstrikes on Saturday hit a funeral hall packed with thousands of mourners in Yemen’s rebel-held capital, Sana’a.

The outcry forced the Obama administration to publicly distance itself from Riyadh:

The US, like the UK, supplies arms to Saudi Arabia and practical military advice, even though the precise extent of that advice is disputed.

White House national security council spokesman Ned Simon said: “We are deeply disturbed by reports of [the] airstrike on a funeral hall in Yemen, which, if confirmed, would continue the troubling series of attacks striking Yemeni civilians. US security cooperation with Saudi Arabia is not a blank cheque."

It is one of several scenes of an entire drama, almost a parallel universe which exists outside the 2016 spectacle which has captured the American public's imagination. Events epochal to those whom they directly concern and important by any objective standard are foreshortened by false perspective into tiny insignificant occurrences happening long ago and far away.

The striking thing is how this administration is bequeathing a comprehensive catastrophe to the next president almost without anyone, least of all the semi-retired chief executive, paying more than cursory attention.

Even most of the provocative saber-rattling from Moscow barely makes it above the fold. Only yesterday, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov accused Washington of aggression without raising so much as a ripple on Twitter.

How did an administration which came to office headed by a Child of the World promising to "build bridges" with other cultures, that styled itself as brimming with "smart" foreign policy experts, finish up in an almost comical state of parochialism?

Why, rather than bestriding the globe, has it withdrawn in outlook, buttoned up like a tank, viewing the outside world only through the narrowest of slits, driving in little circles from talk show to talk show?

In his final months, President Obama's world has become paradoxically both very large yet very small: large in terms of real-world risk exposure, but small in alternatives politically open to it.

Max Fisher tries to explain the shrinkage in scope and loss of prestige in a New York Times think piece by ascribing American bewilderment to such grand historical causes as the loss of faith in its own exceptionalism arising from the trauma of George Bush's campaign in Iraq. But this smacks of self-exculpation.

The simplest explanation for the huddled final days of the administration? They have been burned, and they want no more of that unpleasant experience.

The "smartest people" on the planet found they were not quite as clever as they thought.

They should not have been surprised. Over the last decade presidential hopefuls have come from the ranks of thinkers without much experience in governance or the wider world. They knew all the answers -- in theory -- but none in practice. Individuals who spent all their adult lives learning how to raise money, craft talking points, perfect stances before the camera, fund opposition research, and recruit surrogates found that special skills did not travel so well in the wider world.

The election of 2016, by coming down to an actual choice between two candidates who no one particularly seems to want, has emphasized the unnatural limits from which political leadership is drawn. The system is not nearly so diverse as Bill Buckley's sample of "first 400 people listed in the Boston telephone directory" -- it is much more cramped, artificial, and parochial. The idea that a nation with a third of billion people could only come up with these two people to lead it is almost absurd.

Far from being cursed with the burden of exceptionalism, America is really weighed down by mediocrity and a lack of flexibility. It is trapped in the world because it is trapped in Washington. If there is one metaphor which might describe the commotion of 2016, it is that we are watching an attempted jailbreak.

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