Then yesterday the relentless efforts of the US to persuade Thailand to extradite arms dealer Victor Bout-- initiated in 2008 by the Bush Administration--finally paid off. As they say, you should be careful what you wish for. The timing of Bout's arrival in the US couldn't be worse.
Samuel Charap, a Russia expert at the Center for American Progress, a liberal think tank, said Washington's determination to bring Bout to trial may sow fresh doubts about the United States' commitment to the broader reset policy.The Reuter's article echoes a point I made in August 2009 when Bout's extradition case was tied up in the Thai courts. I blogged:
A bigger worry, however, is continued Senate delay on START, which Obama and Medevedev signed in April, committing to cut deployed nuclear warheads by about 30 percent.
"START is the cornerstone, and it is a demonstration to the Russians on whether Obama can deliver, and whether the U.S. is really interested in pursuing shared interests cooperatively," Charap said.
While both Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton have urged the Senate to ratify the measure during its "lame duck" session in coming weeks, those hopes were hit hard on Tuesday when a key Republican said that did not leave enough time to debate.
... surely the last thing the White House needs is a high-profile trial of a semi-retired Russian merchant: a trial sure to create diplomatic trouble with Moscow, complicating Obama's "fresh start" foreign policy agenda...My point was that the US-Russian relationship is vastly more important than securing justice for Victor Bout. As Oxfam noted at the time, the illegal arms trade demands a systemic global response.
If the cost was going to be a setback in Russian-US relations, then I would say "getting Bout" was not worth it. Moreover, I think Obama's new approach deserves a fair go and warrants a clean slate.
At this juncture, it's useful to look at US-Russia relations from a Russian perspective: Although Russia has gone extra mile to cooperate with President Obama, it appears likely that the US Senate will fail to ratify an important treaty. America is poised to respond to Russia's positive overtures with a blast of indifference. This outcome could prove a severe blow to the Russian liberal faction led by Dmitry Medvedev.
Given what's at stake in the relationship, the Obama Administration ought to have backed-off on its push for Bout's extradition.