Brittney Griner Swapped for Viktor Bout; Paul Whelan and Marc Fogel Remain Imprisoned in Russia
[guest post by JVW]
We’ve discussed Brittney Griner a few times over the past few months, so rather than go over that story I just want to give you my gut reaction to the news today that she has been swapped for international arms dealer Viktor Bout, who was serving a 25-year sentence on charges of conspiracy to kill U.S. officials and for aiding terrorist states.
I’m glad she’s home. Her sentence was grossly unjust considering the fact that other Americans have been arrested in Russia on similar charges and either had the charges dropped in return for immediately leaving the country or else been granted clemency after the perfunctory conviction and sent home. While it was fantastically stupid of her to have brought hash oil into Russia, it was a product that she had been legally using in the United States, and perhaps had been prescribed it by her doctor. I do think, however, that her carelessness and stupidity in putting herself in this position should come with consequences, so I would hope that the State Department will revoke her passport, if possible, and make her permanently ineligible for overseas travel. At the very least, her days representing USA Basketball internationally should be long over, though it remains to be seen if she can even return to the WNBA after this past ten months of trauma.
Exchanging an international arms dealer believed to be behind thousands of deaths in the Middle East, Africa, and Asia for a pothead athlete was a ridiculously lopsided trade, sort of like giving away a lobster dinner for a fish stick. But Brittney Griner has all sorts of intersectionality cred going for her, and three major interest groups vital to Democrats and the Biden Administration’s political fortunes lobbied heavily for the Administration to bring Brittney home, turning her into a cause célèbre among our cultural gatekeepers. Her professional basketball league, the WNBA, adopted her as a living martyr by celebrating her throughout this past season, and her family appeared to have a direct line to the White House to keep Brittney in the public eye.
Ironically enough, this full-court press (to mix in a basketball cliché) seems to have had the effect of greatly reducing the prospects for another American prisoner be included in the swap. As late as August, CNN was reporting that U.S. negotiators were working with their Russian counterparts on a deal that would have added Paul Whelan, a U.S. citizen who worked as a security director for an automotive parts maker which did business in Russia and had been imprisoned in Russia since 2018 on charges of spying (Whelan and the U.S. deny the allegations). But it’s not all that difficult to believe that Putin and his henchmen observed the pressure that was being brought to bear on the Biden Administration to rescue the female, black, lesbian basketball player, and they no doubt rightly concluded that she was a valuable enough commodity that they did not have to add Mr. Whelan or Marc Fogel, an American teacher imprisoned since August 2021 on nearly identical charges to Ms. Griner’s, as part of the deal.
In a crazy way, the WNBA, NBA, and all of the civil rights, gay rights, and feminist groups who made Brittney Griner a constant news item probably doomed the short-term chances of getting Mr. Whelan or Mr. Fogel returned to their loved ones. To their credit, the Griner family has spoken out on their sympathy for the Whelan family and vowed to continue to help work for his release, and the Whelan family in return has been very gracious about Brittney Griner being moved to the front of the queue. Curiously enough, not much is heard about Marc Fogel, but that could be because he’s just an ordinary everyday American citizen, not a B-list celebrity drenched in intersectionality or a guy whose life sounds like it might make a great movie starring Tom Cruise. It would be nice if all of those Legions of Woke who pushed for the immediate return of Brittney Griner — spare no cost! deny no demands! — take up for Paul Whelan and Marc Fogel, but somehow I think that the plight of Americans held in Russia is going to take a backseat to our frivolous media going forward. President Biden himself assured us in his press conference today that the Whelan case remains a priority for his Administration, but it would seem that poor Mr. Fogel is the forgotten man, except for maybe by his Congressman.
I’m glad that Brittney Griner is home, but this was a huge diplomatic win for Russia and a quizzical defeat for the U.S. It beggars belief that our negotiators couldn’t have packaged Marc Fogel in with Ms. Griner; no one in Russia likely cared about him or would have passed up the photo opportunity of bringing Viktor Bout home just to keep an American medical marijuana-smoking schoolteacher incarcerated. And now we would appear to be out of high-ranking assets to trade. So great job all around, Brandon. The “professionals” in the Biden Administration better hope that some transgender Latinx pop singer doesn’t get caught in St. Petersburg with an underaged prostitutka or else we’ll probably have to sell out Ukraine to get zir home.