Viktor Bout, left. Britney Griner, right.

Why Are You Actually Mad about Viktor Bout?

The news of Britney Griner’s release in exchange for Russian Viktor Bout was met with some very interesting and troubling conversation at least in the social media world yesterday.

For some reason people took great objection to the trade, bemoaning the fact that Griner – a star of the WNBA – was exchanged for a “convicted arms dealer” Viktor Bout, and such a trade was a bad one. I had several people comment that because Bout is such a bad guy because he is a “convicted arms dealer,” they had nothing to celebrate since he was released.

Oh, celebrating Britney Griner’s release is somehow canceled out because Viktor Bout is released? How does that calculus work?

I think I am surprised at how interested people who have never engaged with me online regarding anything political suddenly had a concern about a person they literally never heard of until they read about him in the media. And when they did, what they learned about Bout was that he is a “convicted arms dealer,” or a “notorious convicted arms dealer.” And apparently, that was all people had to know about him to sour on the deal that resulted in the release of Britney Griner.

But why are people sour on the deal because of Bout? This is the thing I don’t think I understand. Surely people in this country are not all of a sudden concerned about arms dealing, not with this government paying Lockheed Martin, Raytheon, Northrop Grumman, and other “defense contractors” to produce. WEAPONS. 

Aside from the fact that the US is at this very moment the primary production center for weaponry being sent to Ukraine, the government of which has banned opposition parties, media outlets, labor unions, and has waged a campaign of terrorism against an ethnic minority within the country since 2014 including banning their language and has now banned religious organizations, the United States government is NOTORIOUS for covert deals to arm opposition groups to crush opposition to imperialist influence in countries like Nicaragua, South Africa, Colombia, Iran, Angola, Zimbabwe…there are too many to name.

Bout is certainly no hero, having sold arms to all kinds of unsavory actors involved in conflicts all over the world, sometimes arming both sides of some conflicts. But I think it’s worth noting that the reason he is described as a “convicted arms dealer” is that he wasn’t convicted for flying planes of weapons into Iraq in support of the US, or delivering reconstruction supplies for the US as well as arms to both sides in Afghanistan or delivering humanitarian aid to several countries that no one else would fly into for the United Nations. Nope, Bout was convicted in a sting operation in which he was led to believe he was selling arms to leftist Colombian guerrillas, FARC.

What people who are suddenly up in arms about arms dealing don’t know, is that the same people who paid Bout to do their bidding – the US government – were mad that he had the nerve to sell arms to groups who were fighting against the US in their countries. And these groups include Hezbollah in Palestine, the MPLA in Angola (he also sold arms to UNITA), and other countries, particularly in Africa where the exploitation of western neocolonialism and US imperialism created the very instability that caused the wars that Bout made his money providing arms for, regardless of which side he armed.

Did Bout sell arms to these groups out of some ideological commitment to anti-imperialism? Of course not. He sold arms to whoever would buy them for the most money. But the point here is that agreeing to sell arms to the leftist FARC guerillas in Colombia was what ran him afoul of the US government after that same US government either paid for his services or turned a blind eye to his arms dealing for years. I think that’s telling and we should not lose sight of yet another example of the US’s rank hypocrisy.

The only thing that really needs to be talked about in regard to the release of Britney Griner is that she is released from Russian custody and let’s celebrate that for her and her family. All of the rest of this Monday morning geopolitical quarterbacking from people who have never been concerned about weapons proliferation around the world before is very suspect, considering I doubt any of this conversation would be had if the person being released were say, the NFL’s Tom Brady or even the NBA’s Stephen Curry in exchange for Bout.

But you know what, if people really want to have a conversation about arms dealing and its resulting human toll around the world, OK then let’s talk about the United States and its 800+ military bases all around the world and how this government through its network of defense contractors has always and is right now arming fascists and dictators around the globe, and how ending US militarism and imperialism will destroy the market for individual arms dealers to even exist in the world.

I’d love to see the folks who are suddenly enraged about global weapons proliferation to become active in the movement against US imperialism and to oppose US/NATO aggression around the world. Bring that newly found outrage at international warmongering to any one of the anti-imperialist anti-war organizations we talk about on this show – PSL, Black Alliance for Peace, ANSWER Coalition, any one of them.

We’ll hold the door open for you, but me? I’m not holding my breath waiting for most of the folks with so much to say about Viktor Bout to show up and fight the real threat to global peace – US imperialism.