Smart power: Colombia to extradite massively important drug kingpin to Venezuela instead of the US

His name is Walid Makled, and he may be one of the most prolific drug dealers of all time. He may also be deeply connected to high officials in the Venezuelan government. He has claimed that those officials' cooperation helped his rise.

According to the White House, Makled is the third most important drug kingpin in the world, responsible for smuggling ten tons of cocaine into the USA and Europe a month (roughly 10 percent of the global cocaine supply).

In statements made from the maximum-security prison where he is being held in Colombia, Makled has stated that without the cooperation of a large number of high-ranking military and civilians inside the regime of Hugo Chávez he would not have been able to become Venezuela’s equivalent of Pablo Escobar.

Makled may be the key to understanding just how corrupt and dangerous the Chavez regime really is. He's almost definitely connected to FARC, the communist guerillas who have been attacking Colombia for years. And he may be connected to Hezbollah, which is known to operate in Venezuela and which has increasingly profited from the drug trade to fund its terrorism. All of those possibilities should be of intense interest to the US government. But it looks like our government will never get to talk to Makled or find out who and what he knows.

U.S. officials have said privately that in addition to wanting Makled to face drug charges, they also believe he could provide key information on alleged involvement in the drug trade by top Venezuelan officials in the Chavez government.

There are also concerns that if Mr. Makled is sent to Venezuela, a plea deal may silence him and he might never pay for his alleged crimes with any lengthy sentence. Venezuela says it wants MMr. akled brought home to face charges of drug trafficking, money laundering and murder.

President Santos says Colombia is sending Makled to Venezuela because they asked first. But Colombia has until recently been a staunch ally of the US, especially on the drug war. The Obama administration let the Colombia free trade deal languish, and when Makled was first arrested, the administration showed no interest in having him extradited to the US, even though the warrant upon which he was arrested centered on US charges. In Venezuelan hands, he's likely to get a deal or get silenced some other way.

Am I laying blame for this debacle at the feet of President Obama? Yes. Makled was captured in August 2010. Had he been arrested during the Bush years, there's little reason to think he wouldn't have ended up in US custody and telling US law enforcement all that he knows. The Bush administration knew friend from foe and treated Colombia very well. The Obama administration has treated Colombia the way it has tended to treat all of our allies -- shabbily, with either disinterest or outright hostility. The extradition of Walid Makled to Venezuela is a tragic missed opportunity, and one that was entirely avoidable.