Empower Wisconsin | Dec. 9, 2022
By Jim Geraghty, National Review.
Today you’re going to hear a lot of people defending the Biden administration’s deal to secure the release of Brittney Griner by giving Viktor Bout, the world’s most notorious arms dealer with a metaphorical ocean of blood on his hands, back to Russia. (I called the then-potential deal a “moral abomination” back in August.) Not securing the release of Paul Whelan makes this bad deal even worse.
A lot of defenders of the deal will contend that critics are indifferent to the suffering of Griner, which is a dodge and a smear. The question is not, “is it in the interest of the U.S. government to secure the release of Brittney Griner?” That’s a silly question; the U.S. never wants to see its citizens unfairly detained under brutal conditions on trumped-up charges. The question is, what is an appropriate concession to secure the release of those citizens, and does the payment of the ransom make future problems like this more likely?
It is hard to overstate the crimes of Bout; if any human being deserved to rot in prison for the rest of his days, it’s him. Longtime State Department official Witney Schneidman, who tracked Bout delivering arms to both sides of the Angola civil war, called Bout “the personification of evil.” From the end of the Cold War until his arrest in 2008, if there was an arms embargo, Bout flouted it — Liberia, Afghanistan, Sierra Leone, Congo, Libya. Whenever there was a dictator or warlord who needed weapons to mow down his enemies or suppress a suffering population, Bout was there to make a profit off of bloodshed. He earned his nickname, “the Merchant of Death.”
Douglas Farah, a biographer of Bout, laid out his lifetime of monstrous crimes:
Bout provided tons of guns and ammunition to some of the most vicious warlords in the world and empowered them to carry out unspeakable atrocities. He is responsible for enabling murderous groups to kidnap and train thousands of child soldiers; use rape as a systematic method of terror and control; torture through the mass amputations of arms, legs, ears and lips; slaughter civilians, and help the Taliban take power in Afghanistan. Griner may have been carrying vape cartridges that were banned in Russia but not in much of the world. . . .
I covered the wars and victims of Bout’s weapons trade in Sierra Leone, Liberia and Democratic Republic of Congo as a correspondent for the Washington Post. The Nicolas Cage movie “Lord of War” was loosely based on Bout, and I co-wrote with Stephen Braun a non-fiction account of the savagery he enabled. There are no words to describe the human toll of Bout’s activities on thousands of people, from the armless child amputees in refugee camps to the scorched rural hamlets burned to the ground by marauding children traumatized into killing their own families.
This summer Farah argued trading Griner and Whelan for Bout was worthwhile, contending that as an old man, Bout was unlikely to return to the arms trade. But there were other consequences glossed over, most notably that by giving Vladimir Putin what he wants, we make other Americans in Russia more likely to be detained and used as bargaining chips in the future. And every other two-bit dictator and warlord around the world is watching and learning, too.
After all, if the U.S. government is willing to release Viktor Bout — at one point, the second-most-wanted man after Osama bin Laden! — under enough pressure, then the U.S. government will release anyone under enough pressure: terrorists like Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and Dzhokhar A. Tsarnaev, spies like Robert Hanssen.
It is likely that one of the reasons the Biden administration went ahead with this deal was their confidence that enough allies would choose to characterize it as a major diplomatic victory, not an epic concession to a hostile state that is likely to try to use the same strongarm tactics again in the future.
Read more at National Review.