The Merchant of Death

Viktor Bout is a very bad man.  Born in Tajikistan, the 43-year-old is a veteran of the Russian armed forces.  When his military career went belly-up, he transitioned smoothly into the international arms trade.  He’s made tens of millions of dollars selling weapons to global horrors such as the Taliban, genocidal warlords in Sudan, and Columbian narco-terrorists.  While working on a deal for weapons the Columbian terrorists could use to overthrow their government and kill Americans, he discovered he was actually negotiating with undercover agents of the American DEA.  The deal was going down in Thailand, but instead it was Viktor Bout who went down.

This all happened over two years ago.  Bout has been cooling his heels in Thailand while fighting extradition to the United States.  His allies in this struggle were none other than our partners in peace, the Russian government, quoted in the Christian Science Monitor as calling his extradition “illegal” and a “dangerous” example of the United States acting as “global prosecutor and world judge.”  Russian columnist Viktor Baranets says “the Russian reaction to the prosecution of Bout might have been different if the Americans had come to our side and spelled out the case against him.”  I find it difficult to believe that was never done.  I just did it, and it took me all of five minutes.

Global security consultant Douglas Farah credits “an unusually dedicated, small group of men and women, stretching from the end of the Clinton administration to the Bush and Obama teams” for bringing Bout to justice.  With all possible respect to these heroic efforts, Bout doesn’t seem like the kind of threat that should be addressed by small groups of dedicated men and women.  He’s helped an awful lot of scumbags kill an awful lot of innocent people.

The rise and fall of Viktor Bout illustrate some important points about the global war on terror and genocide.  The complexities of international politics can interfere with the righteous pursuit of villains.  Russia obviously has higher priorities than shutting down the Bout division of Murder, Incorporated.  The Bush Doctrine, which offered the world a choice between siding with America or terrorists, dissolved in the face of a grimy international community that doesn’t see it as a binary choice.

On the other hand, this case shows how much international terror relies on the support, or at least indulgence, of nation-states.  Many governments, including the United States and the U.N., did business with Bout long after they knew what he was.  He was only a few hours away from escaping extradition, with the assistance of the Russian government.  The butchers of Columbia, Sudan, and Afghanistan desperately needed the implements he sold, and made him rich by paying top dollar for them.

The dedicated group of law-enforcement agents hailed by Douglas Farah just did something the nations of the Earth could have done a long time ago.  The world suffers the horrors it tolerates.