I remember reading State Department cables and CIA analyses back in the late 1990s and early 2000s about former Soviet military officer Victor Bout. Bout was nearly mythological in Africa, my area of primary focus in those years. His business was profitably putting weapons, small arms, and battlefield gear no longer needed by the Soviet empire into the hands of other governments and organizations that did. Bout’s logistics companies made excellent use of former Soviet and Eastern European military pilots, among other things. His employees were a throwback to the Errol Flynn era, tough and swashbuckling risk takers.
Bout was often portrayed as evil incarnate our intelligence agencies — as if the supplier of the weapons created the marketplace. Governments think that way, and Obama and Bush "jobs" programs and debt- and printing press- funded stimuli make sense if you believe that creating a consumer and moving rocks around (whether with shovels or teaspoons) is the same as creating value.
Conditions for conflict exist wherever corrupt vampire states suffer awakened and angry populations, or begin to fear competition from other power hungry gangs. And when it comes to a government’s primary function of remaining in power, you can believe that our own government recognizes these conditions for conflict, and is working hard to ameliorate them — or failing that, tarring the messengers.
By the time I got to the Office of the Secretary of Defense, in 2000, I began to wonder why, if we knew so much about what Bout was doing, and where he was, and complained so loudly about his awfulness, why we didn’t just arrest him already, or have one of our puppet states do it.
The movie Lord of War came out in 2005, presumably "inspired" by the real-world Victor Bout. It’s a fun movie to watch, especially at the end where the Bout character (played by Nicolas Cage) explains to the arresting officers how it’s all going to play out. I don’t want spoil it for anyone, but the conclusion of the movie won’t surprise informed viewers.
Victor was finally arrested in Thailand in 2008, after being indicted by the USG for "conspiring to kill Americans, conspiring to kill US officers or employees, conspiring to provide material support to terrorists and conspiring to acquire and use an anti-aircraft missile." These charges, in my mind, would equally apply to any of the top men in the Pentagon, or any of our recent Presidents. Earlier this year, the feds filed new charges against Bout, including "with the illegal purchase of a Boeing 727 and a Boeing 737 and with money laundering and wire fraud."
The same week we proclaim to be leaving Iraq (leaving just the massive concrete walls around the ethnic enclaves, the depleted uranium, the unrepaired water and electricity infrastructure, the monster embassy, and 50,000 of our finest troops barricaded within the major modern U.S. military bases we built and plan to operate for decades), we find that Victor Bout can and likely will soon be extradited to the United States.
According to the article, the US must extradite within three months or Victor walks. One factor that could lead to his rapid transfer or perhaps, a convenient bureaucratic delay, is extensive evidence that the DoD actually contracted with Bout’s logistical firms to fly supplies into Iraq during the long US destruction of that country and subsequent refashioning of Iraq into a newly corrupt client.
In any case, Bout’s logistical and transport companies did perform well for its customers, flying into dangerous countries and doing what in most cases, no other companies or governments could or would do. Yes, laws were violated, sanctions busted, and it may be proven that Bout’s empire included some unwarranted fostering of violence, some smuggling, perhaps some coincident drug trading. Given this record, it appears Victor’s businesses may have tread directly on some US intelligence agency toes.
The fundamental cause of many of the lengthy civil wars and conflicts in the continents where Bout operated can be directly related back to US intelligence and military meddling, the post-colonial interests of US and NATO member governments, and the government promotion of false but highly profitable fears, From the late 1800s, faux-fright of global Catholicism morphed into 20th century faux-fright of global communism, which seamlessly morphed into today’s bugaboo, the faux-fright of global Islamicism. General Smedley Butler would be right at home in DC today, as only the names have changed.
As we observe a partial drawdown from Iraq, the American legacy includes not just the destruction of people and economy, of lawfulness and liberty, both in Iraq and the U.S., but as Robert Fisk so eloquently explains, "…we have brought the Iraqis a plague…" of civil war, terror and political manipulations and double dealing in Baghdad and Kurdistan for decades to come. But as the US government itself seeks stability, now is the time to nip its competition in the bud.
Hence, Victor Bout must be taken out of the running, as our own logistics companies surely will need the business in a contracting global economy, and shrinking profit margins in current and projected US wars. Likewise, our Kabul puppet Hamid Karzai just outlawed private security firms, with an edict that all private security firms leave of the country by the end of the calendar year. Whether this is a call simply for higher government kickbacks from security companies and the businesses who hire them, a political ploy to get more attention from Washington, a response to Karzai’s real fear of losing power and even assassination (perhaps by way of a foreign security company, perhaps one employed and directed by DOD groups or the CIA), or just a way to complete the exodus of foreign business interests in Afghanistan and create a socialist utopia even faster, we cannot know. We do know that he publicly justified the planned expulsion by saying, "security companies undermine the Afghan government’s authority and divert resources [presumably from the government who might be paid to provide similar services.]."
These moves by our government, and its clients, to "clarify" the competition are small indicators of what the ruling class is thinking. Just a few weeks ago, The Defense Department announced potential cuts — aimed at satisfying budget constraints while, as Winslow Wheeler puts it, defending "the defense budget from real cuts [Gates] expects from Congress… and the Deficit Commission." Closer to home, it is widely expected that government "enforcement" of IRS rules, the number of audits performed and tax rates (national, state, county, and city) will all rise noticeably in coming years. The uni-party perspective (regardless of election year slogans) is that we the people are withholding too much from government, in effect stealing its rightful share of a pie shriveling before our very eyes.
I wish Victor Bout every advantage in his legal battles; as criminals go, he is certainly matched pace for pace by our own leaders and government employees. But there are signs that our government — incompetent as it may be in business and economics — is beginning to feel real hunger pangs. Either it will contract willingly, freeing up both capital and faith for future production and prosperity, or it will attempt to identify, consume and destroy any remaining value it can find at home and abroad.
Washington is currently pursuing the latter approach, and I suspect we are only now glimpsing the depth and breadth of the armed robbery to come.
LRC columnist Karen Kwiatkowski, Ph.D. [send her mail], a retired USAF lieutenant colonel, blogs occasionally at Liberty and Power and The Beacon. To receive automatic announcements of new articles, click here or join her Facebook page.