I was thrilled when I heard the news that Brittney Griner was being released and thrilled today to learn that she had landed in San Antonio, where she will have a thorough medical examination.
I naively assumed that everyone would be thrilled that this young woman was released, but soon realized that that was not the case.
Republicans quickly seized on her exchange–release of Brittney in a trade for Viktor Bout, notorious arms dealer known as the “Merchant of Death”–to say that Biden had committed a terrible sin. He got a mere basketball player in return for a dangerous criminal who had spread arms throughout the world to terrorize and kill people, including Americans. Republican politicians wasted no time denouncing the deal on Twitter as a show of Biden’s naivete and incompetence. He left a Marine behind enemy lines, crowed Tennessee Senator Marsha Blackburn. Trump denounced the deal as “stupid” and “unpatriotic.” He assumed that Biden simply forgot about Paul Whelan, who has served four years behind bars in Russia for alleged espionage.
But that was not true. Biden has been in contact with the Whelan family. Whelan’s brother made clear that he agreed with Biden.
The reports from inside the Biden administration make clear that Putin was unwilling to make a 2-for-1 trade. He offered to release Griner in exchange for Bout. The deal was 1-for-1. Only Griner was on offer, not Whelan.
Putin had leverage: he was holding three Americans in Russia’s grim prison system: Griner, Whelan, and an American teacher named Marc Vogel, aged 60, who has been imprisoned for more than a year for possession of medical marijuana on entering the country. Vogel and his wife were teachers at the Anglo-American School in Moscow, a pricey private school for the elite. The Russian negotiators were clear: only one American would be released, and it would be Griner.
Biden’s choice: Trade Bout for Griner or no deal at all.
He chose to give up Bout in return for bringing Griner home.
From the vitriol being thrown at Biden by Republicans, I assume they would prefer to have made no deal at all. They would have let Griner serve out her 9-year sentence or wait until Putin was prepared to release Griner, Whelan, and Vogel. Some GOPers say on Twitter that the only reason she was chosen by Biden (Biden did not make the choice) is that she is lesbian and gay. Absurd.
What would you have done?
I, for one, welcome Brittney Griner home.