Today in South Asian history: the Battle of Talikota (1565)

We are still on a break until early next week, but today is the anniversary of the 1565 Battle of Talikota, which severely weakened–though it did not destroy–the formerly very powerful Vijayanagara Empire of southern India, and allowed the Muslim Deccan Sultanates to expand their territory southward. Although the Hindu Vijayanagara lost the battle, it could be argued that Talikota helped shape the modern state of India, because it brought to an end a period in which Hindu southern India and Muslim-ruled (though still majority Hindu) northern India were developing more or less on separate tracks. Had Talikota not been fought, or had Vijayanagara won a defensive victory, it’s not clear, for example, that the Hindu Maratha Empire would have eventually formed in the Deccan and conquered so much of northern India.

Anyway at the risk of repeating myself I’m not able to do much writing at the moment, and so I would have let this pass had I not found a decent piece on Talikota’s background published by The Diplomat back in 2015 (people love round number anniversaries). It does a good job explaining what the Vijayanagara Empire was, why it was important in Indian history, and why it’s defeat here was also important in Indian history.

The one thing that bugs me about that piece is that it spends even less time on the actual battle than I usually do. Vijayanagara didn’t just lose because their commander, Rama Raya, was captured and killed during the course of the battle. It lost because, despite a slim edge in manpower, its army was structurally inferior to the Deccan army in several ways. For one thing, the Deccan force had a large edge in cavalry–Vijayanagara still relied on war elephants, which were a lot less impressive as a weapon in 1565 that they’d been in, say, 565. Deccan archers used powerful crossbows against relatively weak bamboo bows on the Vijayanagara side, and in terms of battlefield artillery the Deccan force vastly outclassed Vijayanagara. And if those structural advantages weren’t enough, the Deccan sultans also bribed two divisions of Muslim soldiers in the Vijayanagara army to switch sides in the midst of the battle.

The Vijayanagara Empire at its largest extent (Wikimedia)

The Vijayanagara Empire survived until 1646, but it spent much of its last ~80 years being picked at by the Deccan Sultanates–eventually it was conquered by two of them. The city of Vijayanagara itself was so thoroughly sacked after Talikota that it really never recovered.

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Deadline posting: the Battle of Rafa (January 2017)

Hi everybody! I’m on a deadline that may keep me from posting anything else today (stay tuned if you like), but in anticipation of just such a thing I’ve been holding on to Michael Collins Dunn’s two-part look at the Battle of Rafah, which took place 100 years ago this month. Rafah wasn’t a huge engagement, but it marks the end of World War I’s Sinai Campaign and the last time Ottoman soldiers found themselves in Egypt. As such, it prefaces the resulting Palestine Campaign (these are sometimes lumped together as the “Sinai and Palestine Campaign”) and the British push north toward Syria. It was also an important battle for Britain’s ANZAC (Australian and New Zealand Army Corps), and particularly for the New Zealanders, whose mounted rifle division’s bayonet charge–undertaken after a general order to retreat had been issued–broke what had been a pretty staunch Ottoman resistance and won the battle.

Part one covers the lead up to the battle:

On December 20, 1916, the Allied force reached El ‘Arish, where they discovered the Ottoman force had evacuated the town and withdrawn up the Wadi El ‘Arish to the vicinity of Magdhaba to the southeast. (See map above. Illustrations are from Wikimedia.) Unwilling to advance beyond El rish while leaving Turkish and German forces behind their right in a fortified position at Magdhaba (not far from the big Turkish support base at Hafr al-‘Auja, just inside the Palestinian side of the border).

The Commander of the Desert Column, Sir Phillip Chetwode, arrived at El ‘Arish with supplies from Port Said, and prepared to dispatch the ANZACs under Sir Harry Chauvel. The German Commander of the Ottoman Desert Force, Kress von Kressenstein, had constructed a series of fortified redoubts at Magdhaba which he thought could resist attack, but he reckoned without the high mobility of the Light Horsemen.

Part two covers the battle itself. And here’s a map of the battle via Wikipedia to help you visualize it:


I highly recommend all of Dunn’s World War I accounts if you feel like poking around his blog. They’re really good.

Hi, how’s it going? Thanks for reading; attwiw wouldn’t exist without you! If you enjoyed this or any other posts here, please share widely and help build our audience. You can like this site on Facebook or follow me on Twitter as well. Most critically, if you’re a regular reader I hope you’ll read this and consider helping this place to stay alive.

Barack Obama and American foreign policy

As President Obama heads off to, well, whatever it is he plans on doing, everybody and their NatSec Granny has been doing foreign policy retrospectives of his administration. Some of them have been mostly positive, others largely negative, and that’s just among the analysts who are generally straight shooters rather than rabid partisans whose assessments are invariably colored by politics.

I find that writing insta-retrospectives is not something I enjoy, nor is it something I’m particularly good at doing. Give it 20 years or so and I can get you something, and I feel pretty comfortable looking at particular policies or events in the moment, but summing up eight years worth of foreign policy and trying to then assess the historical import of those eight years when they’re only just ending is just not my thing. But I will offer a few isolated thoughts if you’re in to that sort of thing. This is not intended to be comprehensive–the need to be comprehensive is one of the reasons I hate writing retrospectives. Continue reading

Corruption matters

Amid all the post-election “how the hell did we get here” analysis, a lot of which has focused squarely and rightly on the myriad failures of the Democratic Party, another piece of the puzzle has gotten lost a bit, and that has to do with what Donald Trump represented to a lot of voters–a vote against “the establishment.” We live at a time when, across the board, confidence in public institutions is as low as it’s been in my lifetime, and that’s why everybody who runs for federal office tries to portray himself or herself as an “outsider” even when that claim is laughably absurd. The allure of the “outsider” candidate is simply too powerful…so powerful that the imprimatur helped Trump, a man manifestly unqualified to be president who’s not even really an “outsider,” get elected anyway. This lack of confidence in public institutions is problematic in its own right, regardless of how the election shook out, but it’s become more acute now that it’s helped bring us President Trump.

Why is confidence in public institutions so low? Well, to be sure, decades of right-wing rhetoric about “the liberal media” and how “evil” government is have contributed quite a bit, particularly as Democratic Party elites have preferred to hide from that debate rather than engage with it. But particularly now, after the Iraq War and the housing crash among other things, a big part of the reason why confidence in public institutions is so low is that our public institutions simply don’t deserve our confidence. Writing in Foreign Policy, Sarah Chayes, a Carnegie Endowment scholar who’s written on corruption and its impacts around the world, offers an absolutely merciless and well-deserved critique of American corruption and the role it played in this election: Continue reading

Ready on Day One

Ryan Cooper of The Week offers a clarifying and frightening look at the surveillance and assassination operation that Barack Obama is about to bequeath to Donald Trump:

Let’s review what has been built over the last years and decades.

There is the dragnet surveillance program at the NSA, built by Bush and expanded by Obama, which might be used to monitor political dissidents and blackmail them with personal indiscretions. (It has been restrained, but not by much.)

There is Obama’s drone assassination program, in which the president personally condemns people, including a U.S. citizen, to death without trial. It could be used domestically to pick off those who won’t submit to other pressure.

There is the gigantic U.S. prison system. As of 2014, some 6,851,000 people were under criminal supervision (either in prison, jail, or on probation) in the United States. That’s over 2 percent of the entire population. In many places, the criminal justice system is used as an all-purpose warehouse for any sort of social dysfunction, or simply as a way to fund the local government. Some rural locations have a supervision rate of about 10 percent. Even 2 percent is likely more than enough capacity than would be necessary to utterly crush any organized political movement — the Soviet gulags took up roughly 1-2 percent of the Soviet population at their height.

Finally, there was Bush’s CIA torture program, which could be used to intimidate political dissidents or their families. While it has been halted, and Trump has apparently been talked out of torture for the moment, his stated positions shift with every passing second.

Obama didn’t create the torture program, obviously, and in fact put it on ice. But his decision not to prosecute the people who did create it, and then implemented it, is not only morally indefensible but means that the next president can now simply reinstate it with impunity, under the Obama precedent that the United States does not prosecute torturers. Cooper suggests that Trump could turn this apparatus–in particular the surveillance state–against his political enemies, a la authoritarians in Russia, Hungary, Egypt, etc. And that prospect is pretty frightening. But even if he doesn’t do that, it’s still scary to imagine that capability in Trump’s hands.

I can write the first comment on this post, which will be “HEY I GUESS YOU LEFTIES SHOULD’VE VOTED FOR CLINTON, HUH.” Because in spite of the evidence pointing to a clear working class shift to Trump and the paltry number of voters who opted for the further left candidate, Stein, over Clinton (more voters in key states opted to leave the presidential line blank, and the real winner of the election, as usual, was “I didn’t vote”), the principle of ABPL (Always Be Punching Left) will forever apply. So, hey, go nuts.

But on these issues in particular, the fact that Trump is about to take over only adds to the problem–these policies never should have been set in place to begin with, under any president. That they’re now going to be overseen by Trump only enhances that point; America is always only one election away from voting in somebody you wouldn’t trust with your car, let alone your country, so why would we risk giving that person so much unfettered power over our lives and our privacy? We shouldn’t have trusted Obama with this kind of power either, and he wasn’t emotionally unhinged. The bigger issue, though, is that dragnet surveillance, drone assassination, the prison industrial complex, and torture are just terrible policies, period. They destroy lives, wreck communities, impoverish our society while enriching plutocrats, and violate our deepest national principles. Maybe some liberals who decided to stop paying attention because Team D held the White House will start paying attention again now that Republicans control all three branches of the federal government.

Hi, how’s it going? Thanks for reading; attwiw wouldn’t exist without you! If you enjoyed this or any other posts here, please share widely and help build our audience. You can like this site on Facebook or follow me on Twitter as well. Most critically, if you’re a regular reader I hope you’ll read this and consider helping this place to stay alive.

If you read only two things today…

I’m fighting off a bug and have a sick child home from school, so unless something moves me greatly I think the blog will be quiet for the rest of the day. But if you’re looking for something to read I’ve got a couple of suggestions. First, Atrios’s righteous anger is pretty good:

Monday morning quarterbacking – figuring out went wrong, with hindsight – is a certainly fair to engage in, but it isn’t necessarily an indictment of the people involved. Hindsight makes everything clearer, or so it seems at least.

But a bunch of people assumed the responsibility of protecting the nation from Donald Trump. This wasn’t a game, a sportsball contest, this, you know, mattered. And they lost. Jeebus help us all because of it. Most of them aren’t going to see their family members be deported or die of pregnancy complications. With great responsibility comes great responsibility. They took on a job, and they fucked it up. They lost the election to Donald Fucking Trump.

As for all of the absolutely horrible non-campaign surrogates, I suppose it depends on what they thought their job was. That’s the problem with the modern cable news and twitter campaign. I used to think Dems needed to close the hack gap, but that assumed our hacks would be any good. They weren’t.

Not very constructive, I know, but still necessary. But here is something more constructive, from New York Magazine’s Eric Levitz, on the ways Bernie Sanders (who wasn’t the best messenger, as Levitz acknowledges and I concur) is right about where the Democratic Party needs to go:

Without question, the non-economic dimensions of disadvantage in the United States — which women, LGBT, and nonwhite voters are acutely aware of as a function of their identities — must be addressed by any political party that considers itself progressive. And identity-based social movements like Black Lives Matter helped the Democratic Party better earn that label in 2016, by forcing both its presidential candidates to adopt platforms more representative of their voters’ interests.

But racial justice and gender equality cannot be achieved without confronting economic inequality — not when people of color and women are overrepresented among the financially disadvantaged. And it’s difficult to see how the Democratic Party will ever take aggressive action to combat inequality, unless its downscale wing becomes both larger and more class conscious.

This is really a thoughtful piece and well worth a read.


All the news that’s fit to make you sick



Hey, I warned you in the headline

If it’s seemed like things have been a little sparse around here this week, it’s because, at the cost of a little sleep and a lot of sanity, I’ve been heavily covering the Trump transition for LobeLog. I haven’t been posting links to those stories here because I wanted to wait until I had reached a pause, at least, in the process, and the chaos surrounding the transition dragged on all week. But here’s a whole slew of things to read at LobeLog, going back to last week–some by me, some by other people–that will enlighten and inform you about our imminent descent into madness.

My first reaction to Trump’s election was that the Iran deal, which has kind of been a focus of mine, was in serious trouble. I struck probably a maximally pessimistic tone, so if you prefer a more optimistic one, check out this one from Iran expert Esfandyar Batmanghelidj. Either way, handling the Iran deal is going to be one of Trump’s biggest diplomatic tests. Yesterday I covered a report issued by the National Iranian American Council arguing that Trump should expand on the deal rather than tearing it up, but frankly I think if it survives his administration at all we should consider ourselves lucky.

My second reaction to Trump’s election was to note all the loud cheering coming from Israel, where, for example right-wing Education Minister Naftali Bennett cried that “the era of a Palestinian state is over.” That must have been a pretty short era, because I totally missed it.

Then this week I got into the transition proper. On Tuesday I wrote about the early front-runners for Secretary of State, Rudy Giuliani and John Bolton:, and on Wednesday I wrote about the many, many names under consideration for Secretary of Defense, a list that at the time was headlined by Alabama Senator Jeff Sessions, the genteel old timey southern white supremacist who has since opted to become Trump’s Attorney General. Arkansas Senator Tom Cotton may be at the head of the line now. Or not.

Yesterday I went in a slightly different direction and wrote about the collection of frightening characters Trump seems to be accumulating around him on national security: Continue reading