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This Is the United States and Iran on Drugs

A host of U.S. officials, led by Vice President Joe Biden, traveled to Munich for a prestigious annual security conference over the weekend, where they’re transparently pushing NATO allies to go hard into Afghanistan, a place they’ve typically not been willing to go very hard. One of the interesting subplots, report the Wall Street Journal’s Yochi Dreazen and Jay Solomon, is how Richard Holbrooke, President Obama’s special envoy to Afghanistan and Pakistan — all the cool kids call it Af-Pak now — will dip a toe into some other very dicey diplomatic waters:

Richard Holbrooke, the Obama administration’s new point man on Afghanistan and Pakistan, is expected to engage Iran as part of a broad effort to stabilize Afghanistan and combat the country’s growing drug trade, according to officials briefed on the special representative’s plans.

So first, the irresistible bureaucratic intrigue. What does this mean for Dennis Ross, the not-yet-announced-but-widely-expected special envoy for Iran, if Holbrooke is already looking into steps to reach out to Iran? And is this the real reason why Holbrooke sought out Iran expert Vali Nasr to advise him?

Now the substance. Iran had offered help in Afghanistan in 2001 before being rebuffed by the Bush administration; has an interest in a stable neighbor to its east; and has no love lost for the Taliban. So it’s both savvy and understandable that the Obama team might take this tack for opening its outreach to Iran. But the increased involvement of the United States in Afghanistan counternarcotics reinforces questions about whether the United States isn’t just (probably) adding troops, but expanding its goals as well — especially at a time when Defense Secretary Bob Gates has been lowering expectations for what’s achievable there. That’s not to say engaging with Iran on stemming the tide of Afghan heroin is an inexorable indication of mission creep — the details matter — but it’s something to keep an eye on.

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