Beltway Briefing

The top five stories from US politics today.


1. Will Rick Perry put himself forward for the Republican candidacy? The Texas governor is said to be very close to announcing his bid. As a mainstream conservative who is also well liked by the evangelical and Tea Party factions of the party, he has the potential for widespread appeal. At the end of his speech at the Republican spring conference this weekend, he received a standing ovation and the audience chanted "Run, Rick, Run!"

Perry, a former air force pilot, is a good speaker and was even better received than other popular figures at the conference, including Newt Gingrich and Michele Bachman, who has already announced her candidacy. Known as an all-American tough guy, he jogs with a pistol in his belt and shot a coyote during a run last year.

The Wall Street Journal reports that his aides are currently looking at the problems he would face as a late entrant, such as raising sufficient funds. Romney and Bachmann: live in fear.

2. Ron Paul is celebrating his victory in a straw poll taken at the same weekend conference. The Texas congressman -- who at 75 says he is not too old to be president -- gained 612 votes, despite not matching this success in nationwide polls. This rating put him far ahead of former Utah governor Jon Huntsman, who got 382 votes in the straw poll and is expected to join the race later this week.

Here is Paul on NBC's Today, saying that his victory shows that he appeals to people who are fed up with US involvement in "endless, undeclared, unwinnable wars dumped on the young people", and concerned about the economy.

3. Bachman has cemented her reputation as a formidable fundraiser. Her latest filing with the Federal Election Commission, the Republican presidential hopeful had $2.8 million cash on hand. By comparison, the veteran politician Paul has $1.6 million. She took in $13.5 million in the 2010 election cycle, making her the most prolific fundraiser in the House.

Interestingly, the vast majority of this is from individuals making relatively small donations, which is in keeping with her position as the grassroots, Tea Party candidate. Of the $1.7 million she reported raising last quarter, all but $1,500 came from individuals. The average donation was just $619.34. Her individual contributions are now nearly 100 per cent of her total funds, compared with just over half in 2006.

The Washington Post attributes this to "money blurts", which create excitement and attract a high volume of small donors:

[Bachman has] made a specialty of raising money in the wake of bold and well-placed remarks. Shortly after accusing President Obama of having "anti-American views" during one cable-news appearance, for example, Bachmann took in nearly $1 million.

Will other candidates be inspired to make similarly lucrative, controversial statements?

4. A study by a Facebook advertising firm appears to suggest that the best bet for Republican candidates trying to attract online clicks is to focus their ads on President Barack Obama, rather than on issues such as the economy.


It also showed that Sarah Palin is still a bigger magnet for online page views than any of the other announced or potential Republican presidential hopefuls -- although this could be because she has greater recognition. The Huffington Post has more details on the data.

5. Senator John McCain angered the Latino community by claiming yesterday that illegal immigrants were responsible for starting some of the huge fires that have devastated Arizon in recent weeks. He said there was "substantial evidence" that migrants set fires to keep warm, signal to others, or distract border guards, although he didn't say what this evidence was.

This is good news for the Obama administration, which is engaged in an aggressive push for Hispanic support ahead of 2012. After successes with increasing black voter turn-out in 2008, Obama's team is trying to raise historically low rates of Hispanic registration and turnout in at least six swing states.

However, according to Politico, Obama has angered one national Hispanic organisation by missing their annual conference for the third consecutive year, despite promising before his election in 2008 that he would return as president.

Juan C. Zapata, a Florida Republican and chairman of the group's educational fund, told Politico: "He sent a very clear message to the Hispanic community that, 'I want your support on the campaign, but I am not willing to do anything to earn it'."


Samira Shackle is a freelance journalist, who tweets @samirashackle. She was formerly a staff writer for the New Statesman.

Photo: Getty Images
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I'm far from convinced by Cameron's plans for Syria

The Prime Minister has a plan for when the bombs drop. But what about after?

In the House of Commons today, the Prime Minister set out a powerful case for Britain to join air strikes against Isil in Syria.  Isil, he argued, poses a direct threat to Britain and its people, and Britain should not be in the business of “outsourcing our security to our allies”. And while he conceded that further airstrikes alone would not be sufficient to beat Isil, he made the case for an “Isil first” strategy – attacking Isil now, while continuing to do what we can diplomatically to help secure a lasting settlement for Syria in which Assad (eventually) plays no part.

I agreed with much of David Cameron’s analysis. And no-one should doubt either the murderous barbarism of Isil in the region, or the barbarism they foment and inspire in others across the world.  But at the end of his lengthy Q&A session with MPs, I remained unconvinced that UK involvement in airstrikes in Syria was the right option. Because the case for action has to be a case for action that has a chance of succeeding.  And David Cameron’s case contained neither a plan for winning the war, nor a plan for winning the peace.

The Prime Minister, along with military experts and analysts across the world, concedes that air strikes alone will not defeat Isil, and that (as in Iraq) ground forces are essential if we want to rid Syria of Isil. But what is the plan to assemble these ground forces so necessary for a successful mission?  David Cameron’s answer today was more a hope than a plan. He referred to “70,000 Syrian opposition fighters - principally the Free Syrian Army (FSA) – with whom we can co-ordinate attacks on Isil”.

But it is an illusion to think that these fighters can provide the ground forces needed to complement aerial bombardment of Isil.  Many commentators have begun to doubt whether the FSA continues to exist as a coherent operational entity over the past few months. Coralling the myriad rebel groups into a disciplined force capable of fighting and occupying Isil territory is a heroic ambition, not a plan. And previous efforts to mobilize the rebels against Isil have been utter failures. Last month the Americans abandoned a $500m programme to train and turn 5,400 rebel fighters into a disciplined force to fight Isil. They succeeded in training just 60 fighters. And there have been incidents of American-trained fighters giving some of their US-provided equipment to the Nusra Front, an affiliate of Al Qaeda.

Why has it proven so hard to co-opt rebel forces in the fight against Isil? Because most of the various rebel groups are fighting a war against Assad, not against Isil.  Syria’s civil war is gruesome and complex, but it is fundamentally a Civil War between Assad’s forces and a variety of opponents of Assad’s regime. It would be a mistake for Britain to base a case for military action against Isil on the hope that thousands of disparate rebel forces can be persuaded to change their enemy – especially when the evidence so far is that they won’t.

This is a plan for military action that, at present, looks highly unlikely to succeed.  But what of the plan for peace? David Cameron today argued for the separation of the immediate task at hand - to strike against Isil in Syria – from the longer-term ambition of achieving a settlement in Syria and removing Assad.  But for Isil to be beaten, the two cannot be separated. Because it is only by making progress in developing a credible and internationally-backed plan for a post-Assad Syria that we will persuade Syrian Sunnis that fighting Isil will not end up helping Assad win the Civil War.  If we want not only to rely on rebel Sunnis to provide ground troops against Isil, but also provide stable governance in Isil-occupied areas when the bombing stops, progress on a settlement to Syria’s Civil War is more not less urgent.  Without it, the reluctance of Syrian Sunnis to think that our fight is their fight will undermine the chances of military efforts to beat Isil and bring basic order to the regions they control. 

This points us towards doubling down on the progress that has already been made in Vienna: working with the USA, France, Syria’s neighbours and the Gulf states, as well as Russia and Iran. We need not just a combined approach to ending the conflict, but the prospect of a post-war Syria that offers a place for those whose cooperation we seek to defeat Isil. No doubt this will strike some as insufficient in the face of the horrors perpetrated by Isil. But I fear that if we want not just to take action against Isil but to defeat them and prevent their return, it offers a better chance of succeeding than David Cameron’s proposal today. 

Stewart Wood is a former Shadow Cabinet minister and adviser to Ed Miliband. He tweets as @StewartWood.