Can Perry afford to pull out of televised debates?

After a series of poor performances, the Texas governor will pull out of some debates. It is a high

Rick Perry, the Texas governor and Republican presidential hopeful, may pull out of some televised debates after a string of poor performances.

Perry, a latecomer to the race to become the Republican candidate in the 2012 election, quickly became the frontrunner, before falling behind due to a series of mistakes.

Mitt Romney, the former Massachusetts governor, retains the lead in the national polls, as well as being steps ahead on organisation and fundraising.

Perry's team are keen to refute the perception that their candidate running scared, saying that the heavy debating schedule is preventing him from spending time with voters. His spokesman, Ray Sullivan, said:

There have been eight Republican debates so far, five since Gov. Perry got in. We certainly respect the process, but when you've got eight or nine candidates and 30 seconds to a minute (to answer a question or provide a rebuttal), it takes valuable time away from campaigning in Iowa as those elections approach.

Perry himself has tried to downplay the importance of debates. When Fox News asked if he'd made any mistakes in the race, he said:

These debates are set up for nothing more than to tear down the candidates. It's pretty hard to be able to sit and lay out your ideas and your concepts with a one-minute response.

So, you know, if there was a mistake made it was probably ever doing one of the (debates) when all they are interested in is stirring it up between the candidates instead of really talking about the issues that are important to the American people.

Essentially, Perry is returning to the same strategy that helped him to win three elections as governor of Texas. He is well aware that he is not a strong debater, and in previous elections (he has never lost one), he has debated his rivals only when there is no other option. He has relied on his personal charisma and ability to connect with voters personally - but it is hard to see how this will be as effective on a national scale. Televised debates give candidates a huge amount of free media exposure to primary voters who may not otherwise know who they are.

Perry has not ruled out appearing in any debates, but his team say they will decide this on a case by case basis. His decision has sparked much discussion in the US. While some commentators concede that there are too many debates, and that the format does not lend itself to deep discussion, there is unanimous agreement that Perry's poor performance so far suggests he is simply afraid of coming off badly. A spokesman for his rival Rick Santorum summed up the negative viewpoint:

How can Gov. Perry expect anyone to trust he can take on Obama and the Democratic machine when he thinks debating his fellow Republicans is too tough?

Other candidates could follow his lead and bow out of some debates too, which would reduce this perception. What is certain is that this is a high risk strategy.

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

Getty
Show Hide image

“Journalists are too scared to come”: Refugees on the forgotten war in Yemen

Only the few who have managed to flee the war-torn country can reveal the suffering of those left behind.

Last weekend’s BBC Our World report on the humanitarian crisis caused by the Yemen civil war highlighted that not only is the conflict a forgotten war, it is also an unknown war. Since war broke out 18 months ago in March 2015, surprisingly little has been written about the conflict, despite its similarity to ongoing and widely-reported other conflicts in the region, such as the Syrian crisis.

The main conflict in Yemen is taking place between forces allied to the President, Abdrabbuh Mansour Hadi, and those loyal to Zaidi Shia rebels known as Houthis, who forced Hadi to flee the capital city Sana’a in February. The loyalties of Yemen’s security forces are split, with some units backing President Hadi and others his predecessor Ali Abdullah Saleh, who is seen as the leader of the Houthi forces.

While these two forces have been at war, separate terrorist groups have been gaining more and more influence on the ground. Opposed by both the Houthis and Hadi’s forces, al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) have staged deadly attacks from strongholds in the south and south-east. They are also opposed by Islamic State, which has claimed responsibility for a number of suicide bombings in Sana’a.

After rebel forces closed in on the president's southern stronghold of Aden in late March, a coalition led by Saudi Arabia responded to a request by Hadi to intervene and launched air strikes on Houthi targets.

I have spent the last couple of months working in the “Jungle” refugee camp in Calais, home to refugees from Sudan, Afghanistan, Syria, Iraq, Eritrea, Somalia – to name just a few. Having heard very little about the civil war, I was surprised to meet a handful of Yemeni men living inside the camp.

Hussein*, 28, is a film producer and dancer from Yemen who fled the country two years ago and has travelled through 11 countries to reach the Calais camp, where he has been living for just over a month. In a mixture of English and French, he tells me how groups of Houthi militia forcibly try to confiscate cameras and notebooks from both local and international journalists. He knows local journalists, friends of his, who have been threatened, tortured and even killed by Houthi forces.

He pulls out his phone and shows me a picture of his friend, Mohammed, who worked as a photojournalist, documenting brutality as a result of the war. Mohammed’s friends and family have not heard from him since April; the best-case scenario is that he is being detained, but Hussein seems pretty certain that he is dead. As a result, many who otherwise would have reported on the conflict have fled from besieged cities such as Sana’a, Aden and Taiz to the relative safety of the countryside in the north of the country, or have left Yemen altogether.

His friend Jamil, with whom he shares a tent, adds: “from other countries journalists [they are] too scared to come”. He claims that there are only “five or seven” foreign journalists in the capital city, Sana’a and tells me about journalists from the UK, France and the US who, after spending days being held up by countless militarised checkpoints while trying to reach the main cities, are then interrogated and detained by Houthi forces. If they are let go, they are harassed throughout their visit by National Security officers.

After watching his mother die during an airstrike in the city of Hodaida in January, Jamil took the decision to flee Yemen and claim asylum in Europe. He is worried about his father and his friends who are still in Yemen, especially after hearing reports that random border closures and cancelled domestic flights have been preventing crucial aid convoys of food, medical supplies and trained aid workers from accessing the citizens who are desperately in need of humanitarian assistance. Jamil reminds me that Yemen was in economic crisis even before war broke out, with widespread famine and limited access to healthcare or clean water.

Movement within the country is restricted and dangerous, and in the last twelve months alone, four Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) facilities have been attacked and destroyed by airstrikes. Writing on 15 September 15, MSF head of mission in Yemen, Hassan Bouceninem spoke of:

“Other health centers, schools, markets, bridges . . . [that] have been attacked and destroyed by airstrikes, shelling, or bombs. Such attacks create direct victims but the war (economic failure, access problems, closing of hospitals, no health staff etc.) also causes a lot of indirect victims within the population.”

Such widespread instability and the resultant lack of access for journalists and aid workers means that it is difficult for the world to know how much Yemen is suffering. Only by speaking to the few who have managed to flee can even begin to grasp the realities of daily life for those left behind.

*Names have been changed to protect the identities of our sources.

Neha Shah has been volunteering in the Calais camp.