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

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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.