The math we constantly hear used in commentary of the Brittney Griner for Viktor Bout prisoner trade is wrongheaded. The erroneous and inapposite calculus does not involve the very dangerous threshold decision about whether or not to make these trades, with inevitable consequence that some innocent Americans will later be seized and imprisoned as a mechanism for gaining release of our enemies’ truly dangerous operatives – criminals like Viktor Bout. We crossed that dangerous line years ago and then began the case-by-case evaluation of whether each swap should have been done. Was it fair? Did the U.S. receive fair value? The flaw in the conventional math used this time is doing the calculation of what is fair without its dispositive modifier, “value.”
How many times have you heard that we gave up Bout, a convicted arms trafficker, deeply complicit in the deaths of tens to hundreds of thousands of non-combatants. And in return the U.S. only got Griner, guilty of nothing more serious than a few “Bong hits for Jesus”
American values don’t require our released prisoner to be as vile and dangerous as the one we are releasing – say an arms trafficker for an arms trafficker. We have such in our midsts, don’t we? Our values compel a formula where the more blameless and even good our guy is, the more we are willing to relinquish for their freedom.
I want, you want, we all want Paul Whelan’s release – but given our values, the Griner for Bout swap was a better deal than the apparently unavailable Whelan for Bout deal would have been. And there’s another American value and valuation that is not being recognized in the ignorant criticism of Griner for Bout, mostly from Republican electeds, their press and their sheep. The value of an/one American.
Israel is criticized by some for many things, but lack of resolve and toughness are not among them. When in 2011 Israel traded 1,027 Palestinian and other prisoners for one Israeli soldier, Gilad Shalit, who had been kidnapped by a U.S. designated terrorist organization, the math they used was “our guy is worth a thousand of theirs.” The trade demonstrated that valuation to Israelis and the implicit belief that an Israeli soldier could match and overmatch many foes.
Americans want to demonstrate similar valuations to its people. We believe Brittney Griner is more valuable than a score or more Russian criminals. That’s the math that should apply to her freedom.
 A student holding up a sign proclaiming “Bong Hits for Jesus” was punished by his high school as advocating illegal drug use. His punishment was upheld in a 5-4 SCOTUS decision styled Morse v. Frederick, 551, U.S. 393 (2007).
 John Bolton advocated this formula on CNN on December 18, 2022.