Listening to the confirmation hearings of the team assembled by Donald Trump has been eye-opening. There is a Secretary of Education who believes that guns should be in classrooms in case the school is attacked by grizzly bears. There is a head of the Environmental Protection Agency who 'hasn't looked at the scientific research on the dangers of lead exposure to children'. And then there are the nominees who just want to bomb Iran. The leaders in that pack are Trump's national security team (Mattis, Flynn), but not far behind is his pick as US Ambassador the UN, my fellow Punjabi Nikki Haley. Haley said that she believes that the nuclear deal with Iran would deliver a nuclear bomb to Iran - a statement that drew from Senator Tim Kaine the comment that she might want to read the agreement before she makes such remarks. She also said - against international law - that the US will shift its embassy to Jerusalem, onto occupied land in violation of several UN resolutions.
In this week's Alternet, I have a report on the rise of a kind of peculiar obsession with Iran - more like a juvenile hatred of the country. There are, of course, a great many problems with Iran - as there are with other countries - but there is a fever-pitched dislike of the country that bewilders me. It does not only come from the factually-challenged Right - as I show in the article - but it is shared with the 'moderates' who fulminate about Iranian agendas in Syria and elsewhere with little sense of the context. Saudi Arabia, Israel, the US establishment - these are the agents here. As I write,
- 'This Saudi fixation combined with the fantasies of the Israelis releases a toxic worldview into the American security industry. ‘Iran,’ for them, is no longer a real place, but a fantastic place of Evil – North Korea in West Asia, Putin as a Mullah. Fantasy of this kind has no place in the making of foreign policy, but here it is fantasy combined with remarkable illiteracy that rules the day.'
In particular, I was struck by a report in The Guardian by Martin Chulov - and surprised by the kind of sources used by him to make his case of demographic changes inside Syria seemingly at the behest of Iran. Let us bear in mind that there are two or so million Sunnis who are in Latakia and the coastal regions of Syria - so-called 'regime strongholds'. If demographic changes were on the cards, surely these people would not be welcomed into these regions.
This Trump administration might stomp about threatening war against Iran, but it will find - as it might already have found - that the political climate in the world is not going to allow it to have any legitimacy with such an action. Even the Europeans - typically enablers of American imperialist adventures - will protest. The Russians and Chinese will certainly object to such war drums.
You can read the report here.
The image above is by the superb Iranian artist Shirin Neshat from a 2013 piece called Rahim (Our House Is on Fire).
In a matter of hours, Donald Trump will be the next US President. The poster above - from a picture I took in New York City - illuminates the sensibility of a large part of the US population, and of course of the world's population.
I'm grateful to my editor at Frontline - R. Vijay Shankar - for allowing me to have a new format in the fortnightly magazine. I will be offering a column called Diary from Trumpland. These will be episodic reflections and observations from within the United States.
When Edward Gibbon visited the ruins of the Roman Forum he saw that the buildings 'that were founded for eternity, lie prostrate, naked and broken, like the limbs of a mighty giant; and the ruin is the more visible, from the stupendous relics that have survived the injuries of time and fortune'. He then went on to write his massive The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire (1776-1789) - during the anti-monarchical turn in the United States and in France as well as elsewhere in Europe. Today, the buildings of US power remain intact - and Trump will be sworn in with their majesty around him. There is something rotten here nonetheless. It is this rottenness that I wish to chronicle.
The first diary anticipates the presidency. It is about Clinton's fall and the Russian threat (with US troops in Poland and Finland, this atmosphere of fear leads dangerously close to war). It is also about Trump's cabinet. 'Trump takes office', I write, 'with an agenda that could curdle milk'. You can read the first dispatch here.
Finally, we - at LeftWord Books - are thrilled to present to you the memoir of Teesta Setalvad, Foot Soldier of the Constitution. This is one of the most exciting books that I've worked on - and I am very proud of it. Only 200 pages yet filled with stories and emotions, this book introduces you to the life of a journalist from a family of great advocates for India who becomes - as a result of her work during the Bombay Riots of 1993 and the Gujarat Riots of 2002 - a dogged activist.
The Kindle version is already available. The book will release on 26 January - Indian Republic Day. You can pre-order the book here. Hope you like the cover - above - designed by my comrade-in-arms Sudhanva Deshpande.