Afghanistan, site of many a surrealistic scene over the years, produced another one earlier this month.
U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates visited the Afghan capital of Kabul, asserting along the way that Iran next door was trying to undermine the American effort to bolster Afghanistan’s leaders. Iran’s mischief, Mr. Gates indicated, includes providing at least some arms and money to the Taliban fighters trying to kill American soldiers in Afghanistan.
As soon as Mr. Gates left Kabul to visit some of those American troops in the field, another visitor arrived—none other than Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, president of Iran. Afghan President Hamid Karzai gave the Iranian leader a warm welcome, called Iranians his “brothers” and stood by quietly as Mr. Ahmadinejad publicly suggested that American soldiers—the very soldiers fighting and dying to keep Mr. Karzai in power—had no business being in Afghanistan at all.
American officials play down the significance of Mr. Karzai’s symbolic embrace of Iran’s leader, describing it as the sort of thing he has to do to cope with a powerful neighbor that isn’t going away.
Still, the byplay illustrates why Iran’s nuclear program isn’t the only Iranian problem American leaders have to worry about. The broader concern is Iran’s interest in becoming a more powerful regional player able to eclipse Western interests in the area.
Indeed, Iran’s nuclear program may be most worrisome precisely because a nuclear-a…