No sooner had WNBA star Brittney Griner and convicted arms dealer Viktor Bout crossed paths on the tarmac at the Abu Dhabi airport than the debate began in this country: Was the United States fleeced when it gave up Bout for Griner, while leaving former Marine Paul Whalen behind?
The arguments on both sides have been fervid, often verging on the vituperative. Critics say Griner was not worth the trade. They have referenced the time she refused to come out of the locker room for the national anthem; “Brittney Griner Hates America” is trending. On the other side, supporters of the deal have blamed “pay inequity” for Griner’s arrest, arguing that sexism compels WNBA athletes to play in hostile countries like Russia to earn extra income. Some have also mentioned that Whalen is no angel; he received a “bad conduct” discharge from the Marines, due to larceny.
All this sniping misses the point. The swap’s significance transcends Griner, Bout, and Whalen. It even transcends Russia. The trade is a symptom of a new and dangerous form of warfare being waged against this country by several foreign governments: seizing and holding American citizens to humiliate the United States and to advance these nations’ foreign policy objectives.Continue reading