The American Interest
Analysis by Walter Russell Mead & Staff
What Washington's Budget Battle Means for Mullahs in Iran

Ayatollah Khamenei, the Supreme Leader of Iran, rebuffed an offer from Washington for direct talks today, saying “Negotiations with the US will not solve a problem because they have not fulfilled any of their promises in the last 60 years.”

This is not the first time Iran has refused to talk directly to the U.S. Khamenei and his advisors clearly feel they have nothing to gain from such interactions. As they decide how to proceed with Iran’s nuclear program, moreover, they are reading stories like this one telling them that the U.S. budget battles may lead to a 50 percent cut in the number of U.S. aircraft carriers in the Gulf area—from two to one. “The Pentagon said on Wednesday that the deployment this week of USS Harry S Truman had been put on hold because of ‘budget uncertainty’. A guided-missile cruiser which was due to travel to the region will also be kept in port,” the Financial Times reported.

To say the least, reports like this undermine any sense that sanctions and tough diplomatic talk mean the U.S. is serious. It’s not just that the U.S. is so caught up in its own toils and political battles that it risks substantial cuts to its military forces. It’s about what Khamenei is thinking: that if the President were really serious about possible military action, then he would not have let the sequestration battle drag on this long. The possibility of cutting aircraft carriers in the Gulf just wouldn’t be an option.

If Khamenei is indeed thinking this, it is probably a hasty misreading of American intentions. If President Obama asked for emergency funds to cover potential conflict with Iran he would get them. But one of the dangers in the Gulf is that Iran’s Supreme Leader will get his Washington analysis wrong and think we are bluffing when we mean business. News of planned Pentagon cuts in the Gulf will stiffen his spine and makes war just a little more likely. A better political class would know this and act accordingly. We seem to be passing through one of those recurring eras in American history when, despite the presence of some outstanding individuals, our national leadership class is not quite up to its job.

Published on February 7, 2013 1:22 pm