It’s good to know who your friends are. In the case of “Merchant of Death” Viktor Bout, it looks like Thailand knows. It also looks like the Obama Administration’s careful treading during Thailand’s ongoing political crisis has yielded some benefit.
On Friday, a Thai appeals court ordered Viktor Bout, the notorious international arms dealer responsible for fueling wars from Africa to Afghanistan, extradited to the U.S. to face terrorism charges. Bout’s arrest was made possible by a joint Thai-U.S. sting operation in 2008 that caught him agreeing to a massive a sale of weapons to agents posing as FARC (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Columbia) rebels. Following this celebrated law enforcement collaboration with our long-time Thai allies, last year, a lower Thai court ruled against a U.S. request for his extradition.
After two years of struggle between the U.S. and the Russians, who have long opposed Bout’s extradition, all has been made right with the Thais.
Now, we all hope the courts would have decided this case purely on its merits—even without U.S. pressure. But it’s not for nothing that American national security and state department officials at all levels were discussing this matter with their counterparts on the Thai side. You’d better bet the Russians were making their case—and it’s doubtful it was in the cause of “a fair and transparent legal proceeding.”
One cannot but wonder had the Administration interfered in the Thai political crisis this May when the government moved in to restore order to Bangkok, would our Thai government friends have taken our calls?
The “red shirt” protesters the Thai government swept off the streets were no suburban tea party activists. What may have one time been seen by Thais as a genuine call for justice, by the time of the crackdown, had devolved into an armed mob, spurred by a billionaire former Prime Minister turned refugee openly calling for “revolution” in his homeland. On retreat, they showed their true colors through wanton destruction of private property.
No government in the world would permit an armed mob to occupy its downtown for weeks on end. The Administration deserves credit for keeping this in perspective and for keeping lines of communication with the Thai government open. Viktor Bout is a big fish, but he’s not the only fish we have to fry in Thailand. The U.S. has interests there across the board. And we have a democratic government to work with—one that is struggling to deepen its democracy, but remains democratic nevertheless.
The other person deserving of credit for the turn of events in Bout’s extradition is Congressman Ed Royce (R–CA). Congressman Royce led an often lonely battle to see Bout extradited to the U.S. He kept his colleagues, and the public eye, focused on this issue. His persistence paid off. As he says in his latest blog post, the “Good Guys Win.”