‘ERADICATION IS A WASTE OF MONEY’…. When the administration talked up the idea of a new U.S. policy in Afghanistan, officials apparently meant it. This includes new restrictions on airstrikes, but just as importantly, it also includes a new approach to Afghanistan’s drug problem.

The U.S. has announced a new drug policy for opium-rich Afghanistan, saying it was phasing out funding for eradication efforts and using the money for drug interdiction and alternate crop programs instead.

The U.S. envoy for Afghanistan, Richard Holbrooke, told The Associated Press on Saturday that eradication programs weren’t working and were only driving farmers into the hands of the Taliban.

“Eradication is a waste of money,” Holbrooke said on the sidelines of a Group of Eight foreign ministers’ meeting on Afghanistan, where he announced the policy shift and said it had been warmly received, particularly by the United Nations.

Afghanistan is the world’s leading source of opium, cultivating 93 percent of the world’s heroin-producing crop. The United Nations has estimated the Taliban and other Afghan militants made $50 million to $70 million off the opium and heroin trade last year.

Antonio Maria Costa, the head of the U.N. drug office, has been arguing that international efforts are necessary to assist Afghan farmers who are willing to grow valuable crops, while at the same time, targeting drug trafficking and production. Holbrooke told the AP that hasn’t been U.S. policy, but it’s exactly what the Obama administration intends to do.

“We’re essentially phasing out our support for crop eradication and using the money to work on interdiction, rule of law, alternate crops…. That’s the big change in our policies.”

Holbrooke said the previous U.S. policy to combat Afghan poppy, which focused on eradication programs, hadn’t reduced “by one dollar” the amount of money the Taliban earned off cultivation and production.

“It might destroy some acreage,” Holbrooke said. “But it just helped the Taliban.” […]

“The farmers are not our enemy, they’re just growing a crop to make a living,” he said. “It’s the drug system. So the U.S. policy was driving people into the hands of the Taliban.”

Afghanistan is going to remain a nightmarish challenge, but the chances of U.S. policy succeeding go up considerably with smart policies like these.

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Follow Steve on Twitter @stevebenen. Steve Benen is a producer at MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show. He was the principal contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal blog from August 2008 until January 2012.