February 16, 2001

The Marc Rich Pardon was a payoff but to whom?

Everybody's talking about the Marc Rich pardon, but in all the newsprint (and bandwidth) devoted to this story the spin is that this is just the crowning example of Clinton's utter depravity: it's all supposed to be about money. But is it? Did the President of these United States, in his final hours in the White House, really pardon one of the top ten on Interpol's list of most wanted criminals – and set himself up for a storm of protest and opprobrium – all for a measly $450,000 contribution to his presidential library?


This is a question that seems to answer itself. Even if you add in the $1 million-plus given by Marc's ex-wife, Denise Rich, to the Democratic National Committee and Hillary Rodham Clinton's successful campaign for a Senate seat, it seems obvious that, in this supposed deal, the usually crafty Clinton somehow got the short end of the stick. Our ex-President is facing a veritable storm of criticism, some of the harshest coming from members of his own party, and even his biggest defenders are taken aback: they always knew that he was reckless and vulgar, but the sheer scale of this latest example of Bill Clinton's moral turpitude has disgusted even them. They didn't mind when the Lincoln bedroom was being rented out like a Motel 6, but selling presidential pardons to the highest bidder? It didn't go over very well, to say the least: why, even Joe Conason, who took Sidney Blumenthal's place as Clinton's journalistic champion when the latter went on the White House payroll, hung his head in reflected shame at the actions of the man he has so consistently defended:

"The Rich pardon will never reflect well on the former president. Exercising an extraordinary power that ought to be reserved for the repentant and rehabilitated, he rushed to a bad judgment that benefited a very bad man. Yet the true motives behind that decision may be far less damning than whatever Clinton's most demented detractors want us to believe."


Aha! And what, pray tell, were his "true motives"? According to Conason, it wasn't for the love of money, but for the love of Israel: Clinton gave in to pressure from Ehud Barak, Shimon Peres, and Shabtai Shavit the former chief of the Mossad intelligence service, not to mention the Speaker of the Israeli Knesset and a long list of Israeli dignitaries. A series of emails between various members of Rich's legal team, published in Salon, details the concerted campaign to mobilize Israeli support, while Zev Chafets, writing in the New York Daily News, snorts in disgust at the well-organized pressure on behalf of the Rich pardon from Israel's friends in the US, including Abraham Foxman, the head of the Anti-Defamation League of B'nai B'rith, and Eli Wiesel – who now denies it. Conason writes that "it is almost certain that those entreaties swayed him more than the largesse of Rich's ex-wife Denise, who donated more than $1 million to Democrats over the last decade."


Yes, Joe, but just how much "less damning" is this explanation than the charge of selling out for filthy lucre? Indeed, such a motive seems far more damning and dangerous, for what we are talking about is a President's circumvention of American justice at the behest of a foreign power. We all knew Clinton was a sleazeball: that, after all, was a key factor in his popularity among certain sectors of the population. It was part of his charm. Why the popular revulsion at this latest revelation? A sleazeball they could handle. Sullying the Oval Office with his furtive trysts was one thing, but selling out American justice to satisfy demands emanating from beyond our borders? That's a different story – and it's the real story of the Marc Rich Affair.


Barak called Clinton twice, just before the announcement of the President's pardons, and interceded on Rich's behalf: following a scenario spelled out in the Rich legal team's memos, Barak in effect said he'd settle for Rich in lieu of a pardon for convicted spy Jonathan Pollard. Wiesel, on the other hand, now claims that, while he was solicited to appeal to Clinton to grant the pardon, he was determined to hold out for Pollard. Why would the Israelis go all out for Rich? The story is that he has performed certain "services" for the Israeli government, and they are "grateful" for his "unselfish" and even noble actions, which are vaguely connected to the alleged "rescue" of Israelis from Arab clutches and other good deeds. But now it is coming to light that the Rich Foundation, set up by Marc Rich to launder his ill-gotten fortune, is the Israeli government. Avner Azulay, executive director of the Rich Foundation, is a former Mossad agent, according to a very interesting article in the San Jose Mercury News. So are the bodyguards who, since 1983, have been protecting their boss from being jailed on charges of racketeering, fraud, etc. The piece cites Vincent Cannistraro, a former spook and a Middle East expert, who said the Mossad used Rich as a "conduit for financial transfers" and to pass messages to Iran when necessary. He is a very wealthy man, so he is not on the payroll per se. He was a very close friend of the Israeli government and has been cooperating with Israeli intelligence since the early 1980s."


But it would be wrong to simply characterize Rich as an Israeli pawn, for he is a power to be reckoned with in his own right: the case could be made – and, indeed, should be made by Israel's true friends – that it is the other way around: that the Israeli government was the pawn in Rich's game. As Craig Copetas put it in a 1990 magazine article in Regardies':

"To get a sense of how deep Rich's tentacles may reach into the U.S. government, it's necessary to recap the rise of an obscure New York University dropout whose genius catapulted him to the top of Philipp Brothers, the most powerful commodities trading company in the world, where he single-handedly created what's now called the spot oil market. After he left Philipp Brothers (now Phibro-Salomon), Rich founded an oil company and engineered its growth into a multibillion-dollar trading firm. Then he molded his holdings into an international financial conglomerate that gave him access to capital from the four corners of the earth. He bought real estate, refineries, film companies, movie studios, mines, oil wells, politicians, tanker fleets, Picassos, grain silos, weapons, and, perhaps to satisfy his thirst, a Coca-Cola distributor. Rich mastered the arcane game of buying and selling the earth's crust. The business gave him deep – hell, bottomless – pockets, but information was his true currency, and with it he bought power. Real power. No one but Rich has ever fully harnessed and directed the energy that's created when money and power collide."


Rod Dreher, in the New York Daily News, recounts the story of how Rich looted Russia in the aftermath of the Soviet Union's collapse, citing Paul Klebnikov, a Russia expert and senior editor of Forbes magazine. Klebnikov is the author of Godfather of the Kremlin, a book that painstakingly documents how Russian oligarch Boris Berezovsky and his cronies plundered Russia under the rubric of a phony "privatization" program. Rich, based in Switzerland, was in a perfect position to act as a key link in an international scheme to strip Russia of its assets and sock away the profits in secretive Swiss banks. As a dealer in oil, aluminum, zinc, and other commodities, Rich moved in with amazing speed and alacrity to strike deals with local party bosses who wanted to spirit their stolen wealth out of the country. "He'd strike a deal with the local party boss, or the director of a state-owned company," explains Klebnikov, "he'd say, 'OK, you will sell me the [commodity] at 5 to 10 percent of the world market price. And in return, I will deposit some of the profit I make by reselling it 10 times higher on the world market, and put the kickback in a Swiss bank account.'" Rich "made a complete mint off of Russia," says Klebnikov. "Marc Rich ended up being a mentor to all these young kids who came out of the Communist Party establishment, and who made billions off these schemes themselves." Dreher cites an article in The National Interest reporting that the KGB had been spiriting assets out of the country since the early eighties – just about the time Rich went on the lam – through front companies: "The program evolved into . . . avenues for squirreling away funds for the safe retirement or political comeback of embattled communist leaders."


In a letter to Clinton dated Nov. 28, 2000, ex-Israeli intelligence chief Shavit said the Mossad had "requested [Rich's] assistance in looking for MIAs and help in the rescue and evacuation of Jews from enemy countries. Mr. Rich always agreed and used his extensive network of contacts in these countries to produce results sometimes beyond the expected. Israel and the Jewish people are grateful for these unselfish actions which sometimes had the potential of jeopardizing his own personal interests and business relations in these countries." Shavit does not identify these "enemy countries," although the implication is clear that we are talking about Arab countries, perhaps Iran, where Rich has connections due to his oil interests, but it could just as easily be any place where Jews face danger – and Russia could very well fit that particular bill. Acting on behalf of the Israeli government's perceived self-interest, Rich's alliance with the ex-Commie kleptocrats makes perfect sense: as a political buffer against the alleged resurgence of Russian anti-Semitism, and a facilitator of Russian Jewish emigration to Israel, the remnants of the old Soviet party machine would be valuable allies.


Rich's tentacles are everywhere: his Glencore corporation owns a controlling stake in the state-controlled Kazakhstan Zinc (KazZinc), and is the single largest investor in Montenegro, where Glencore enjoys the special favor of the gangsterish President Djukanovic: this cozy relationship has aroused the charge of "crony capitalism," and it does indeed seem like a repeat of his tactics in the Ukraine. Under the protection of NATO troops in Bosnia, Glencore virtually controls the aluminum franchise and word is out that he has his eye on Kosovo, where UNMIK is busy giving away the store. And while the Israelis have taken the lead as Rich's biggest advocates, the fugitive financier has other powerful allies: according to Copetas, they include "Henry Kissinger, lawyer Leonard Garment, [former] deputy secretary of state Lawrence Eagleburger, public relations gurus Harold Burson, Robert Gray, and Frank Mankiewicz, opera superstar Placido Domingo, and a boxcar full of European princes, American politicians, OPEC sheiks, and Fortune 500 bosses. But they can't lift the criminal counts that are suspended over his head." Clinton could, and did – with more than a little help from the Republicans, who, after eight years of trying to ambush Bill Clinton, are now covering for him.


President Bush, asked if he thought the investigation into Rich's pardon should continue, burbled that it was "time to move on." The Republicans are as wary of opening this can of worms as any die-hard Clintonista. The recent House hearings conducted by Dan Burton completely ignored the Israeli angle, while the Senate hearings made it clear, as Salon noted, that Clinton and Rich have reason to be optimistic: Bush's opposition put a definite damper on the proceedings. The continuing cover-up of the Marc Rich outrage, as Arianna Huffington points out, is a bipartisan affair. While much is made of Jack Quinn, the supposed Svengali who hypnotized Clinton into pardoning his client against the advice of the White House legal staff, little is said about Lewis "Scooter" Libby, also one of Rich's legal hired hands, who recruited Quinn to Rich's cause – and then segued into position as Dick Cheney's chief of staff. Then there's David Bossie, Rep. Dan Burton's chief investigator and a veteran of the impeachment hearings, who was hired by Quinn to brief him for his appearance before a House investigating committee this week – one that just happened to be chaired by Rep. Burton. What a coincidence! But here, let Arianna tell it:

"Working alongside Bossie are two other conservative Republicans – and longtime fellow Clinton-bashers – Joe diGenova and his wife Victoria Toensing. It feels like I'm hallucinating every time I see diGenova on TV defending Quinn and, in effect, Clinton and his pardon. It takes weeks of gut-wrenching tribal councils before the two tribes on 'Survivor' merge into a single team. In Washington, it just takes a client with an unlimited bank account."


Arianna's facts are interesting, but her conclusions are, as usual, a little off. While money greases the wheels of this corrupt machine, she overlooks what seems to be the main factor in the pardon of Marc Rich, and that is the extraordinary lobbying effort by the Israeli government. The two tribes who rule Capitol Hill merge into a single team when it comes to satisfying what everyone acknowledges is among the most powerful lobbies in Washington. What did the Clintons get in return? Not just money, although there was some of that, but far more important: continued political support, and not only from American friends of Israel. What did the Republicans get in exchange for collaborating in the cover-up? Brownie points with Ariel Sharon and the incoming Israeli government. Which raises an interesting point.


Joe Conason makes the case that it was a "pardon for peace" in the Middle East, but where oh where is the peace? The much-touted "concessions" that the pardon was supposed to have garnered from the Israelis never materialized. Furthermore, it was clear, as Barak made his last call to Clinton on Rich's behalf, that Sharon would sweep away the Labor government, so Barak was hardly in any position to make such a deal. Clinton knew, at that point, that there was no chance or basis for a peace agreement, and that he would leave it to Bush to cash in his chips for whatever they are worth. There is much about this affair that we don't know, but of one thing we can be absolutely certain: those chips were worth a lot more than Denise Rich's chump change.


Marc Rich is the New Man of the new millennium, no ordinary person but a transnational entity – it was not for nothing that Copetas titled his piece "The Republic of Marc Rich." He reminds me of George Soros of whom Strobe Talbott remarked that, in formulating foreign policy, the US always consulted with its allies "and with George Soros." Like Soros, with whom he is reputed to have business dealings, Rich's vast international holdings have made him a state unto himself, albeit one without borders – just tentacles, reaching into the Russian government, the US government, and a lot of governments in between. Marc Rich – criminal, racketeer, spy – perfectly captures the spirit of the age: he is the brave New Man of the New World Order, the international man without a country who surrenders his American citizenship at the drop of a hat and whose loyalties, in any case, lie elsewhere.


No doubt the usual motley crew of anti-Semites will haul out all this as "evidence" of a World Zionist Conspiracy to overthrow human civilization and usher in the coming of the Anti-Christ – or something to that effect. To those people I say: get help. The Israeli connection is incidental, not central, except in the flamboyant way it is being bandied about. It hardly seems useful to the Israeli government to be lobbying so openly for Rich's release, but it is not for me to determine what is or is not in Israel's national self-interest. I'll leave that up to the New York Post to decide.


The real villains are the individuals involved, both representative of the Zeitgeist in two of its aspects. Just as Clinton embodied the bread-and-media-circuses vulgarity of a paganized and decadent political culture, so the crook he pardoned is the exemplar of a new elite now rising on a world scale, the offspring not of any particular race or nation but a new kind of creature altogether. One born of the marriage of money and power: the Money Power, which is beyond all ethnicity and all nations, a law unto itself. It is the system of global state capitalism, culminating in the creation of a world run by giant corporate cartels acting by and through national governments – and, increasingly, international institutions, such as the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank and all the various transnational institutions that have grown up over the years, including NATO, the EU, the UN, and all the other acronymic enemies of national sovereignty. This is the murky milieu in which the New Man evolves and flourishes: the dank and stagnant waters of the New World Order.

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"Behind the Headlines" appears Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, with special editions as events warrant.


Past Columns

Marc Rich: Treason is the Reason

It's the Empire, Stupid


Globalizing "Star Wars"

What's Up With the Saudis?

Who is Ariel Sharon?

The Myth of the Saddam Bomb

Are We to Be Spared Nothing?
Mad Bombers of Belgrade Blame Their Victims

Lying About Kosovo

Globalism on the Right

Cold War Follies: There's No Business Like Show Business

An Inaugural Party

Inaugural Fireworks Over Iraq?

Ashcroft Versus the Smear Machine

The Gulf War In Retrospect: the "Isolationists" Were Right

Our War Criminals, and Theirs

The American Dracula

NATO's Poisoned Arrow

The New Bolivar: Hugo Chavez and the Rise of Pan-American Nationalism

No to the International Kangaroo Court

Know Thy Enemy

The Canonization of Colin Powell

Big Government Invades the Internet

The New Cold War: Who's Afraid of Vladimir Putin?

The Case for Pessimism

The Gore Coup: No Justice, No Peace – No Exit

Bush or Gore: Pick Your War

Gore, Bush, and the Imperial Style

Neo-Nazis and Neocons: An Unholy Alliance

Al Gore – The O.J. Simpson of American Politics

Coup d'Etat 2000 and the Madness of Al Gore

Slobo and Gore: Peas in a Pod

Gore Coup Radicalizes Republicans

The Dimple That Shook the World

Listen Soldier, You Can Stop the Gore Coup

Two Ways to Steal an Election

In Occupied America: Rage Against "The Regime"

Al Gore's Beer Hall Putsch

A Message to My Readers

The Real Victors: Nader & Buchanan

Buchanan's "Hail Mary" Pass May Work

Doubletalkin' Dubya: Bush Backtracks on Kosovo

The Nader Moment

The Smearing of Ralph Nader

Nader Sells Out

America's Fifth Column

Bush, the Balkans, and the Bipartisan "Division of Labor"

Hilary, the War Goddess

Vidal's Valediction: The Golden Age

Norman's Narcissim: Podhoretz in Love

The Middle East: War Without End

Classic Raimondo: Isolationism for Beginners

Notes on the Serbian Revolution and Other Matters

Revolt of the Little Guys

The Clinton-
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Szamuely's Folly: Sympathy for the Devil

Slobo's Gambit: Will It Work?

Adventures in Cyber-Politics, Revisited

Curtains for Milosevic

Dubya's Kosovo Deception

The Return of Pat Buchanan


The Vindication of Wen Ho Lee

Against the EU: Danes Resist Assimilation

UN Millennium Summit: Globalist Dream is Your Worst Nightmare

Iraq and the US – Our Fantasy Island Foreign Policy

Classic Raimondo: Allied Vultures Pick at Iraq's Bones

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Bush on Kosovo – Turning on a Dime

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Additional Justin Raimondo Archives

Justin Raimondo is the editorial director of Antiwar.com. He is also the author of Reclaiming the American Right: The Lost Legacy of the Conservative Movement (with an Introduction by Patrick J. Buchanan), (1993), and Into the Bosnian Quagmire: The Case Against US Intervention in the Balkans (1996). He is an Adjunct Scholar with the Ludwig von Mises Institute, in Auburn, Alabama, a Senior Fellow at the Center for Libertarian Studies, and writes frequently for Chronicles: A Magazine of American Culture. He is the author of An Enemy of the State: The Life of Murray N. Rothbard.


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