very good essay/overview of the role of traders, merchants and commodities brokers in geopolitics. including the obvious line about neo-colonialism and political influence by other, supposedly post-imperial, means.https://www.lrb.co.uk/the-paper/v43/n18 … o-get-rich
Traders and merchants have always, willingly or reluctantly, been used as the advance guard for powerful states. The World for Sale starts in 2011 with the late Ian Taylor, chief executive of Vitol, on board a private jet, heading to Benghazi in Libya. Vitol, the world’s largest oil trading company, had been asked by the government of Qatar to deliver diesel, gasoline and fuel oil to the rebels fighting Gaddafi. In lieu of cash payment, Taylor had arranged to receive a shipment of crude at the Egyptian terminus of a pipeline from the Libyan oilfields. Naturally, he had secured permission from the British government for the deal, along with a sanctions waiver from the US. Vitol was lubricating the war in Libya at the behest of foreign powers, but Taylor claimed his actions were not political. This seems to be the mantra of the titans of commodity trading interviewed by Javier Blas and Jack Farchy: ‘We are just here for the money; we are not doing politics.’ I suppose it all depends on what you take ‘politics’ to mean.
The origin myth of today’s commodity trades goes back to the era of decolonisation. But they can of course be traced further back, to the East India Company and other early merchant capitalist enterprises involved in the extraction of resources from the colonies. A starting point might be 1592, when traders from the Venice Company set up the Levant Company in London; Levant Company merchants helped found the East India Company seven years later. There are similar familial connections in the modern era: many commodity trading firms emerged from Philipp Brothers, which started as a scrap and ore dealer and became a global metals merchant in the 1960s. Philipp Brothers begat Marc Rich + Co, and Marc Rich + Co begat Glencore, and Trafigura, and so on.
They aren’t always happy families. Marc Rich was put on the FBI’s most wanted list in 1983, when a young US attorney for New York’s Southern District, Rudy Giuliani, charged him with 51 crimes including tax evasion, racketeering, conspiracy and ‘trading with the enemy’. The last charge was the final chapter in a long story. After the nationalisation of the Suez Canal in 1956 and the war waged by Israel and its allies against Egypt, the Israeli government decided to build a pipeline from Eilat on the Gulf of Aqaba in the south to Ashkelon on the Mediterranean coast in order to bypass the canal. The pipeline, a secret 50-50 joint venture with Iran, was financed by Deutsche Bank in a deal facilitated by the bank’s chairman, Hermann Abs, who had been in charge of the expropriation of Jewish property in Nazi Germany. It was Rich, still then with Philipp Brothers, who ensured the supply of oil to the pipeline, dispatching tankers to lift oil in Abadan, sail around the Arabian peninsula, and unload secretly in Eilat. From the late 1950s until the 1970s, Israel imported 90 per cent of its oil from Iran.
Rich left Philipp Brothers in 1974 and set up his own more aggressively risk-taking firm in Switzerland, continuing to provide Iranian oil to Israel even after the 1979 revolution. Ayatollah Khomeini seems to have been pragmatic about this trade with the Little Satan, just as he would be about the dubious trade in arms with the Great Satan a few years later, which became public as the Iran-Contra affair. In the US, however, Rich’s clandestine deal with Iran to provide oil for Israel was encouraged before the revolution but censured after it, leading to Giuliani’s attack on him. Rich’s mistake had been not to secure a sanctions waiver; Taylor did not make the same mistake thirty years later. Rich was eventually, and controversially, pardoned by Bill Clinton, apparently at the behest of Ehud Barak, partly on the grounds that he had helped provide Mossad with intelligence on Iran.
Last edited by uziq (2021-09-16 23:12:47)