Saturday, November 12, 2011

The Hypocrisy of Jailing Viktor Bout

Viktor Bout, international arms dealer extraordinaire, was convicted of illegal arms trading last week in a US court and sentenced to 25 years in prison. Great, he was a nasty thug who sold to every wicked dictator on the planet. But as Andrew Feinstein points out, this conviction
points to the fundamental hypocrisy at the heart of the global trade in weapons: Governments protect corrupt and dangerous arms dealers as long as they need them and then throw them behind bars when they are no longer useful.
Dealers like Bout could not survive without the support of governments, including powerful governments. We have used him and many others like him to funnel arms to rebel movements we supported, including the anti-Marxist UNITA rebels in Angola, the Northern Alliance in Afghanistan and the Tutsi rebels who overthrew Rwanda's genocidal regime. His Rolodex no doubt includes many names in the CIA and French, Saudi, and Russian intelligence. In 2003 and 2004 we used Bout's Irbis Air to fly supplies into Baghdad (the airport was then under regular mortar fire, and who were we going to call?):
Mr. Bout’s client list in Iraq made for intriguing and damning reading: The United States Air Mobility Command, Federal Express, Fluor and KBR, among others. At the time Mr. Bout was supposedly wanted by the F.B.I. and the C.I.A., as well as being the subject of an Interpol arrest warrant.
Men like Bout are a crucial link in clandestine military and intelligence operations worldwide. In my more idealistic moments I think we should have done with all of that; if we are going to support a government or a rebel movement, I think, we should do so openly. But I suppose that isn't the way the world works, or has ever worked. Deniability has been one of the tools of statecraft for as long as there have been states, and that is not likely to change.

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