The MSM Misses the Bout: Part III

The press coverage on the arrest of Viktor Bout has been sporadic. It is a sad commentary on the MSM that one of the best reports I’ve been able to find is from Mother Jones. Given Bout’s importance, a fourth estate that is actually fulfilling its part of the social contract should be blasting the story of Bout’s arrest from every headline.

Reading through this mound of background material for these posts, I still have some very nagging questions that cry out for some decent investigative reporting, the most prominent of which are:

1. Why Thailand? Despite the massive amounts of US funneled to Bangkok over the years since the Vietnam War (in some quarters earning Bangkok the moniker “Langley, East), why did Bout feel safe to travel there? With all the insurgencies in that part of the world, including one in Thailand itself, just how incompetent are the Thais as allies anyway? There’s a huge failure of US foreign policy angle for a story here, from the Philippines to Thailand to Pakistan.

Fortunately for us living in the internet age, there are journalists somewhere in the world asking these questions:

Bangkok is a logistics centre and air hub, there is widespread corruption, there are many ways to get out of the country, and it is a centre for counterfeit currency and fake passports,” an analyst familiar with security issues and intelligence circles told The Straits Times in Singapore.

“Thailand is a laissez faire country with many land and sea borders. For a price, you can do a deal, so long as you don’t touch the locals or harm the country. It’s a haven.”

Knowledgeable bloggers, once again also shed some light:

“Easy to blend in (the large Bangkok population helps), easy access to transferring money and finding accommodation, cheap cost of living and good transit hub,” reasoned Bangkok Pundit, an anonymous blogger who comments on Thai politics and the insurgency in southern Thailand.

“People base themselves in Bangkok for its friendly local environment (more importantly, questions are not asked) and access to others in their local community,” explained the blogger in an email.

On his own site, Bangkok Pundit also notes that Thailand is a big center for passport forgery.

Draconian security measures that restrict the freedom of people in the first world are not going to close these loopholes. Leaning on Thailand and Romania to shut off operators such as Bout will do more for world security than having semi-trained Homeland Security flunkies scrutinizing people’s junk in specialized X-ray machines in US airports.

2. Related to the previous question, just what game is Thailand playing, anyway? Why did they drop charges against Bout? Once again, bloggers seem to answer questions better than the MSM:

during the post-arrest/interrogation stage where I imagine his extradition could be processed and the court will dismiss the charges allowing his extradition to the US

If Thai law does not allow extradition of a criminal who is being charged by the Thais, this is probably not too bad an idea, given the record of the Thais in keeping track of their prisoners:

In 2002, Indian underworld don Chhota Rajan was shot in his Bangkok apartment. And in a scene that could be inspired by a Bollywood movie, the wounded gangster, held in a Bangkok private hospital, escaped by climbing out the window using knotted bed sheets.

On Sept 10, 2007, Kumaran – or KP, the chief procurer of arms of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam – was believed by many, including the Sri Lankan government, to have been arrested in Bangkok.

However, while in Thai custody KP allegedly “disappeared”.

I’m not as optimistic as the Counter-Terrorism Blog that the Thais are now good allies. It would seem to me that, if the Russians successfully block extradition to the US, having a backup set of charges to detain Bout with in Thailand would be a good idea. Placing all the eggs in the US basket may not be a good idea, but no one in the press is asking questions. Given Bout’s connections, if this chance slips though the fingers of the Justice Department, it is unlikely there will ever be another chance to catch the man.

3. How deeply are US intelligence agencies involved with Bout, and were they protecting him or actively discouraging his prosecution? This should be classic MSM “US as the bad guy” material. Where is the expose?

This is precisely the kind of idiocy that the British Foreign Service engaged in after WWI. British encouragement of both Zionist and Arab Nationalism, with Arabists forming their own clique in the Foreign Service, led to the modern mess in the Middle East – does the US not learn from history? Do journalists know enough history to even ask that question? (More on that below.)

4. Why did the Bush Administration allow the momentum that had built up against Bout at the end of the Clinton Administration to dissipate? This is clear failure of vision, of leadership, and evidence of a lack of ability to identify clearly the weak points in the OODA loop of the enemy we face. Once again, this ought to be red meat to the MSM.

5. To what degree is Bout a tool of Russian foreign policy? I’ve often said that I like Russians, but don’t think too much of Russia. One of the reasons is the serf-like tendency of Russian society to view life as a zero-sum game. The classic Russian attitude is that if someone has more than someone else, that wealth must have been stolen. The concept of creating wealth is foreign to Russia, understandably so. But this means that in Russia mobsters such as Mogilevich and Bout style themselves as “businessmen” with a straight face. There is a clear angle for a story on Russian internal politics their influence on foreign policy. Certainly, Bout is seen as a hero by certain ultra-nationalists

«Виктор Бут по сути является идеальным образцом российского бизнесмена» -считает эксперт портала «Евразия» Владимир Никитин – «Зарабатывая приличные деньги, он умудряется поддерживать антиамериканские режимы оружием, работая таким образом на интересы российской геополитики. Если российское посольство не сможет вытащить Бута из этой передряги, то его сотрудников следует уволить с позором. Речь идет не о каком-то заблудшем туристе, а о стратегическом вопросе, от которого зависит в дальнейшем судьба России. А держится она именно на таких людях, как Виктор Бут. Все обвинения, представленные американской стороной для России абсолютно нелегитимны».

As a matter of fact, Viktor Bout is the ideal Russian businessman, in the opinion of Eurasia portal’s expert Vladimir Nikitin: “He gets wealthy, he manages to supply anti-American regimes with weapons, at the same time working in the interest of Russian geopolitics. If the Russian embassy staff can not extricate Bout from this situation, then they need to be dismissed in disgrace. This is not about some stray tourist, but a strategic question, on which depends the future fate of Russia. That fate is in the hands of precisely such people as Viktor Bout. All the charges that the Americans have brought forward are, from the Russian point of view, totally illegitimate. [translation mine]

6. It is somewhat disturbing that Bout thought that Romania was the perfect place to store heavy anti-aircraft weapons, and indicates that US presence in Eastern Europe ought to be a little more forceful, as well. According to the Justice Department, Romanian Police were involved in the sting, but small pockets of uncorrupted officials do not a solid ally make.

Why is the US not concentrating on shoring up the rule of law in semi-failed states such as Romania that allow terrorists to run free on their territory? As I stated in the beginning, excess capacity leads to people finding new uses for items that were once scarce or expensive. This leads to innovation, and is one reason why a rising economic tide floats all boats. The internet is a positive example of this dynamic. Fourth generation warfare is a negative one. But fortunately, not every Podunk country can manufacture sophisticated weapons. The US is doing a horrible job of cutting of the known supply points, and this is probably the biggest news story of the decade. Where IS the MSM?

7. I am deeply troubled by the actions of the Russian State that point to the kind of behavior that is anti-civilization. After Beslan, any support of Radical Islam should have been anathema to Moscow, but they continue to cut off the Russian nose to spite the face of the US. This is the only area where I have some common ground of the “win friends and influence people” school of leftist diplomacy. The US needs ties into all aspects of Russian society in order to influence Russia to be to a rational actor when the interests of both countries are aligned. Once again, the MSM ought to be criticizing this failure of the current administration.

Finally, a philosophical musing on the ability of the fourth estate to fulfill the function that it so vociferously claims for itself: I am reminded of L’Engele’s criticism of the Harry Potter books: there is nothing underneath. All great literature and journalism has to have a motivating ethos and philosophy. In order to have this, journalists must be well educated. From what I observed as a TA and in my subsequent interactions with the press in my professional life, (and obviously other Chicago Boyz have observed as well)journalism students don’t learn much of anything substantive in their college curricula, and their lack of knowledge shows in the stories they cover and the ones they don’t.

Heinlein was fond of saying that:

The three-legged stool of understanding is held up by history, languages, and mathematics. Equipped with these three you can learn anything you want to learn. But if you lack any one of them you are just another ignorant peasant with dung on your boots.

I tend to agree. I’ve complained about journalistic innumeracy before. Obviously, I used multiple language sources to write these posts, and I have my doubts that many American journalists could do the same. I realize I’m a unique case in being highly educated in both language and math, so before I venture too far off into Mary Sue-ism, I’ll cover the third area that journalists have no excuse for being ill-educated in: history.

There is a direct historical allegory to contractors such as Blackwater and Bout’s airlines serving national interests. The use of semi-piratical (or outright piratical) naval squadrons by Elizabeth I to combat the Spanish (due to the relatively weak temporal and financial power of the Crown) continued until the British Crown accrued enough power and taxation authority to secure a national military. The deprivations of the free captains on the high seas are a stark example of the danger of recruiting men of violence and giving them state sanction without placing them under strict military controls.

If the MSM truly fulfilled its claimed function, that connection should have been made in a major expose long ago. Why has there not been a MSM story pasting Bout’s picture atop the Golden Hind? Where is the historical curiosity and ability to spot trends and fashion stories from such knowledge? Enquiring minds want to know.

The MSM Misses the Bout: Part I
The MSM Misses the Bout: Part II

3 thoughts on “The MSM Misses the Bout: Part III”

  1. Thanks for the link. You may want to see a more recent post on mine on passport forgery – link. The US AG has been in Bangkok in regards to passport forgery.

  2. BP – thanks for the update. Also, I had 2 links to you in there, but WordPress has been playing hell with my post, adding code and moving things around at random. I gues it does not like imports from MS Word. Anyhoo, the seocond link is updates (right before the blockquote that came from you).

  3. John,

    MS Word inserts MS-specific or “rich text” formatting code that causes problems in WordPress. It’s best to edit your posts in a straight-text editor like TextPad or even MS Notepad. If you must use MS Word you should save your doc in plain text format (.txt, not .rtf or .doc) before you copy and paste into the blog.

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