Rick Perry, US President?

As Perry signals his presidential intent, some say he’s just “too Texan” to make it.

Rural Paint Creek boy; devout Christian; the man who has sanctioned a record 232 executions. There are many ways to describe former-Democrat-turned-Republican Rick Perry, the Texan governor who this weekend is expected to announce his bid for the American presidency.

Until recently, the 61-year-old has consistently denied suggestions that the presidential role held any interest for him. However, Perry's imminent travel itinerary -- which takes him through key primary states in the coming days -- has sparked widespread assertion that the Texan is set to be a Republican candidate by next week.

In an interview for Time magazine, Mark Halperin asked Perry about the presidential nominations:

MH: Is there an open question as to whether you want to run for President?

RP: We're having that conversation. I mean, you and I having this conversation has answered that question.

MH: About whether you want to run?

RP: Sure. I mean I wouldn't be this far into the process... The issue of, "is this what I want to do?" was dealt with about 45 days ago in a conversation with my wife. Prior to that, no. Being the President of the United States was not on my radar screen from the standpoint of something I wanted to do.

The governor is certainly hitting the headlines. Last weekend, the man known as "Ricky Perry" as a boy in provincial America led a 30,000-strong prayer rally in which he painted a picture of a broken America in desperate need of healing:

Father, our heart breaks for America. We see discard at home, we see fear in the marketplace, we see anger in the halls of government and as a nation, we have forgotten who made us, who protects us, who blesses us. And for that we cry out for your forgiveness.

The Texan was met with whoops of "Amen" and loud applause at the end of his religious address. To his supporters at least, the US financial crisis helped give added resonance to his pitch. Cynics, on the other hand, might view the prayer as an overt attempt to capture the US evangelical vote by a man who has never shied away from interweaving politics and economics with religion.

Fortunately for Perry, certain aspects of the Texan economy - let's put aside some of the highest poverty rates in America, amongst other things, for a moment - are in his favour. In contrast to the incredibly volatile national economy for example, Texas is currently undergoing significant growth and job creation. The Republican's radical austerity measures -- which include significant cuts to Texan health and education services -- may well pose difficulties for winning votes but such practices will no doubt be easier to legitimise when serious concern over US debt is so prevalent.

However, Perry still has some important hurdles to clear. While the religious vote plays in his favour, those not attracted by overt religion may struggle to disassociate his fervent Christian beliefs from his political ones. Likewise, the Left may well struggle to accept Perry's conservative views on the economy and society: let it not be forgotten that this is a man who embraced the Tea Party movement very early on.

Economics aside, perhaps it comes down to good old-fashioned history, as Toby Harnden suggests when he writes that, post-Bush, perhaps Ricky Perry is just "too Texan" to win a general election.


Tess Riley is a freelance journalist and social justice campaigner. She also works, part time, for Streetbank, and can be found on Twitter at @tess_riley

Show Hide image

The conflict in Yemen is a civil war by numbers

Amid the battles, a generation starves.

Ten thousand dead – a conservative estimate at best. Three million internally displaced. Twenty million in need of aid. Two hundred thousand besieged for over a year. Thirty-four ballistic missiles fired into Saudi Arabia. More than 140 mourners killed in a double-tap strike on a funeral. These are just some of the numerical subscripts of the war in Yemen.

The British government would probably prefer to draw attention to the money being spent on aid in Yemen – £37m extra, according to figures released by the Department for International Development in September – rather than the £3.3bn worth of arms that the UK licensed for sale to Saudi Arabia in the first year of the kingdom’s bombing campaign against one of the poorest nations in the Middle East.

Yet, on the ground, the numbers are meaningless. What they do not show is how the conflict is tearing Yemeni society apart. Nor do they account for the deaths from disease and starvation caused by the hindering of food imports and medical supplies – siege tactics used by both sides – and for the appropriation of aid for financial gain.

Since the war began in March 2015 I have travelled more than 2,500 miles across Yemen, criss-crossing the front lines in and out of territories controlled by Houthi rebels, or by their opponents, the Saudi-backed resistance forces, or through vast stretches of land held by al-Qaeda. On those journeys, what struck me most was the deepening resentment expressed by so many people towards their fellow Yemenis.

The object of that loathing can change in the space of a few hundred metres. The soundtrack to this hatred emanates from smartphones resting on rusting oil drums, protruding from the breast pockets of military fatigues, or lying on chairs under makeshift awnings where flags denote the beginning of the dead ground of no-man’s-land. The rabble-rousing propaganda songs preach to the watchful gunmen about a feeble and irreligious enemy backed by foreign powers. Down the road, an almost identical scene awaits, only the flag is different and the song, though echoing the same sentiment, chants of an opponent altogether different from the one decried barely out of earshot in the dust behind you.

“We hate them. They hate us. We kill each other. Who wins?” mused a fellow passenger on one of my trips as he pressed green leaves of the mildly narcotic khat plant into his mouth.

Mohammed was a friend of a friend who helped to smuggle me – dressed in the all-black, face-covering garb of a Yemeni woman – across front lines into the besieged enclave of Taiz. “We lose everything,” he said. “They win. They always win.” He gesticulated as he spoke of these invisible yet omnipresent powers: Yemen’s political elite and the foreign states entangled in his country’s conflict.

This promotion of hatred, creating what are likely to be irreversible divisions, is necessary for the war’s belligerents in order to incite tens of thousands to fight. It is essential to perpetuate the cycle of revenge unleashed by the territorial advances in 2014 and 2015 by Houthi rebels and the forces of their patron, the former president Ali Abdullah Saleh. This demand for retribution is matched by those who are now seeking vengeance for the lives lost in a UK-supported, Saudi-led aerial bombing campaign.

More than 25 years after the two states of North and South Yemen united, the gulf between them has never been wider. The political south, now controlled by forces aligned with the Saudi-led coalition, is logistically as well as politically severed from the north-western territories under the command of the Houthi rebels and Saleh loyalists. Caught in the middle is the city of Taiz, which is steadily being reduced to rubble after a year-long siege imposed by the Houthi-Saleh forces.

Revenge nourishes the violence, but it cannot feed those who are dying from malnutrition. Blowing in the sandy wind on roadsides up and down the country are tattered tents that hundreds of thousands of displaced families now call home. Others have fled from the cities and towns affected by the conflict to remote but safer village areas. There, food and medical care are scarce.

The acute child malnutrition reported in urban hospitals remains largely hidden in these isolated villages, far from tarmac roads, beyond the reach of international aid agencies. On my road trips across Yemen, a journey that would normally take 45 minutes on asphalt could take five hours on tracks across scrubland and rock, climbing mountainsides and descending into valleys where bridges stand useless, snapped in half by air strikes.

Among the other statistics are the missing millions needed by the state – the country’s largest employer. Workers haven’t been paid in months, amid fears of an economic collapse. This is apparently a deliberate tactic of fiscal strangulation by the Saudi-backed Yemeni government-in-exile. The recent relocation of the central bank from the Houthi-controlled capital, Sana’a, to the southern city of Aden is so far proving symbolic, given that the institution remains devoid of funds. The workforce on both sides of the conflict has taken to the streets to protest against salaries being overdue.

Following the deaths of more than 140 people in Saudi-led air strikes on a funeral hall on 8 October, Saleh and the Houthi leader, Abdulmalik al-Houthi, called for yet more revenge. Within hours, ballistic missiles were fired from within Houthi territory, reaching up to 350 miles into Saudi Arabia.

Meanwhile, in the Red Sea, Houthi missile attacks on US warships resulted in retaliation, sucking the US further into the mire. Hours later, Iran announced its intention to deploy naval vessels in the area.

Vengeance continues to drive the violence in Yemen, which is being drawn ever closer to proxy conflicts being fought elsewhere in the Middle East. Yet the impact on Yemeni society and the consequences for the population’s health for generations to come are unlikely to appear to the outside world, not even as annotated numbers in the brief glimpses we get of this war. 

This article first appeared in the 20 October 2016 issue of the New Statesman, Brothers in blood