US election 2012: runners and riders

As the Republican primary season begins in earnest, here's everything you need to know about the top

Mitt Romney

Mitt Romney, the former Governor of Massachusetts, is the son of Republican Party politician George W. Romney. He is the only presidential candidate to have remained near the top of the polls throughout the race.

In the polls: The Des Moines Register released on Friday sees Romney with 24 per cent support -- 2 per cent ahead of Ron Paul. Romney's support in Iowa has grown by five points since an early December Time/CNN survey.

Main policies: Romney's policies emphasise "the principles of free enterprise, hard work, and innovation" and the reduction of taxes, spending regulation, and government programs. Pro-lifer Romney supports sentencing under the three strikes law and abstinence education in public schools, but has opposed the endorsement of any one religion or faith in public schools.

Major gaffes: Romney, who was recently described as "gaffe-proof" in the Harvard Political Review, has yet to make a Bachmann-style blunder in the GOP race.

Michelle Bachmann

The ultra-right policies of Tea Party darling Bachmann, from Minnesota's 6th Congressional District, have seen her branded Palin version 2.0.

The presidential hopeful's top Iowa adviser Kent Sorenson announced last Wednesday night that he was jumping ship to support Ron Paul's candidacy.

In the polls: The RealClearPolitics latest polling average sees Bachmann with a sorry 6.2 per cent in Iowa. The Minnesota candidate's spirits did not seem to be dappened when she was seen out on Monday stating that her goal "is to be America's iron lady."

Main policies: Bachmann, who describes herself as a "constitutional conservative", lists the creation of new jobs, the repeal of Obamacare, the strengthening of family and the "defence of marriage" among her top priorities. Bachmann supports the teaching of creationism in public school science classes, is a strong proponent of nuclear power, and has identified herself as "100 per cent pro-life" -- including in cases of rape or incest. She has also called for the phasing out of social security and Medicare, and supports both a federal and state constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage and legal equivalents.

Biggest gaffe: Bachmann wrongly identified her hometown to be that of movie star and American icon John Wayne back in June; in late November, she revealed plans to close the US Embassy in Iran -- despite America not having one there since 1980.

Newt Gingrich

Gingrich, a former Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives from Georgia, is most widely identified with the 1994 Contract with America. Despite the en masse departure of a group of his senior campaign aides in June, Gingrich emerged as a GOP frontrunner in November.

Gingrich yesterday blamed his failure to get enough votes for Virginia's GOP presidential voting on a worker hired by his campaign.

"We hired somebody who turned in false signatures," he said at a campaign stop in Iowa, adding: "We turned in 11,100 -- we needed 10,000 -- 1,500 of them were by one guy who frankly committed fraud."

In the polls: Gingrich is currently in fourth place among the Republican candidates, collecting just 14 per cent of support, according to new CNN polls, whilst the Des Moines Register has him at 12 per cent.

Main policies: Gingrich has advocated replacing the Environmental Protection Agency with a proposed "Environmental Solutions Agency" and a flex-fuel mandate for cars sold in the U.S. He identified as pro-life and has proposed that high-school girls who graduate as virgins be rewarded.

Biggest gaffe: Gingrich was forced into damage-control mode after dismissing Rep. Paul Ryan's Medicare proposal as "right-wing social engineering" back in May.

Jon Huntsman

Huntsman, a former US ambassador to China who identifies as a centre-right conservative, has been called "a conservative technocrat-optimist with moderate positions".

In the polls: An average of several polls by RealClearPolitics puts Huntsman in last place with 2 per cent of the vote, whilst the CNN/Time/ORC poll has him with 1 per cent.

Main policies: As the governor of Utah, Huntsman signed supported legislation that would have allowed civil unions- but not marriages- for same-sex couples in the state.

Biggest gaffe: During an interview in October on The Colbert Report, Huntsman quipped "When's the delivery food coming?" when the show played a stereotypical Chinese musical jingle. The ill-advised joke was later cut from the show.

Ron Paul

Paul, from Texas's 14th congressional district, has been variously termed both the "intellectual godfather" of the Tea Party movement and "Dr. No" -- a nickname reflecting both his background as an obstetrician and his assertion that he will "never vote for legislation unless the proposed measure is expressly authorized by the Constitution".

In the polls: A CNN/Time poll released on Wednesday placed Paul at 22 per cent, just 3 per cent behind Mitt Romney, while the Democratic firm Public Policy Polling survey shows Paul surging into first place with 24 per cent to Romney's 20 per cent.

Interestingly, according to a Rasmussen/University of New Hampshire poll, just 51 per cent of Paul supporters in Iowa consider themselves Republicans. In New Hampshire, the number is 56 percent.

Main policies: Paul lists limited, constitutional government, low taxes, free markets, and a pro-America foreign policy as priorities. Having maintained a consistent non-interventionist foreign policy stance, he opposed the Iraq war, broke with his party to vote against the Patriot Act, andadvocates withdrawal from the UN and from the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. Paul has also opposed the war on drugs and has called for passage of tax relief bills to reduce health care costs for families. He has described himself as "strongly pro-life".

Biggest gaffe: Paul stormed out of a interview with CNN earlier this month when questioned about racist newsletters that had been sent out under his name in the eighties and nineties.

Rick Perry

Governor of Texas and self-described "long-time hunter" Perry persistently denied aspirations to higher office until 2011. His YouTube Presidential campaign video- which states "there's something wrong in this country when gays can serve openly in the military, and your kids can't openly celebrate Christmas"- sparked an online furore earlier this month.

In the polls: In the latest Gallup national tracking poll, Perry remained in the middle of the pack of presidential hopefuls at 8 per cent. A new CNN/Time Magazine poll out Wednesday had Perry in fifth place, while another Iowa poll by NBC News-Marist poll released on Thursday saw Perry with 14 per cent.

Main policies:
A climate change sceptic and staunch opponent of gay marriage, Perry has signed more pro-life legislation than any other governor in the history of Texas and advocates for a human life amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

Biggest gaffe: Perry couldn't recall his own policy -- the Department of Energy being the third US government agency he would eliminate if elected -- during a televised debate in November.

Rick Santorum

Former Senator for Pennsylvania Santorum was dubbed "a Tea Party kind of guy before the Tea Party even existed" by the Washington Post.

In the polls: Santorum surged toward the top of the ballot in a CNN poll released Wednesday. The Iowa survey places the former Senator at 16 per cent- an impressive jump from sixth to third place. The Des Moines Register predicts that he might 'elbow' Ron Paul out for second place later this evening.

Main policies: Santorum, who describes himself as "a consistent full-spectrum conservative both in word and in action", has emphasised his pro-life stance and opposition of "taxpayer abuse and corruption in Washington" throughout his campaign.

Biggest gaffe: In a GOP debate in October, Santorum remarked: "I don't want to go to a trade war, I want to beat China. I want to go to war with China and make America the most attractive place in the world to do business."

Show Hide image

We can't rush to war in Syria without a plan for peace

A recent visit to Iraq has left me doubtful that the Prime Minister's plan can suceed, says Liam Byrne.

As shock of the Paris lifts and the fightback starts, all eyes are now the prime minister and, at last, the 'full spectrum response' we were promised months ago.

But what's needed now is not just another plan to bomb the ground -  but a plan to hold the ground we win. Four days in Northern Iraq has made me deeply sceptical about air strikes alone. It's convinced me that after the mistakes of Iraq and Libya, we cannot have yet another effort to win the battle and lose the war. Without politics and aid, projectiles and air-raids will fail. It's as simple as that.

After the horror of Paris it's easy to ignore that in Iraq and Syria, Isil is now in retreat. That's why these animals are lashing out with such barbarism abroad. In the ground war, Kurdistan's fighters in particular, known as the Peshmerga - or 'those who face death' -  have now shattered the myth of Isil's invincibility.

A fortnight ago, I travelled through Northern Iraq with a group of MP's arriving on the day the key town of Sinjar was stormed, cutting the umbilical cord - route 47 - between Isil's spiritual home of Mosul in Iraq and Isil HQ in Raqqa. And on the frontline in Kirkuk in north west Iraq, two miles from Isil territory, Commander Wasta Rasul briefed us on a similar success.

On the great earthwork defences here on the middle of a vast brown plain with the flares of the oil pumps on the horizon, you can see through binoculars, Isil's black flags. It was here, with RAF support, that Isil was driven out of the key oil-fields last summer. That's why air cover can work. And despite their best efforts - including a suicide attack with three Humvees loaded with explosives - Isil's fight back failed. Along a 1,000 km battle-front, Isil is now in retreat and their capitals aren't far from chaos.

But, here's the first challenge. The military advance is now at risk from economic collapse. Every political leader I met in Iraq was blunt: Kurdistan's economy is in crisis. Some 70% of workers are on the public payroll. Electricity is free. Fuel is subsidised. In other words, the Government's bills are big.

But taxes are non-existent. The banks don't work. Inward investment is ensnared in red tape. And when the oil price collapsed last year, the Government's budget fell through the floor.

Now, in a bust up with Baghdad, cash has been slashed to Kurdistan, just as a wave of 250,000 refugees arrived, along with over a million internally displaced people fleeing Da'esh and Shiite militias in the south. Nearly 6,000 development projects are stalled and people - including the Peshmerga - haven't been paid for months.

We have brave allies in the fight against Isil - but bravery doesn't buy them bullets. As we gear up the battle against Isil, it's now vital we help boost the Kurd's economic strength - or their sinews of war will weaken. There's an old Kurdish saying; 'the mountains are our only friends'. It's an expression born of years of let-down. In the fight against Da'esh, it's a mistake we can't afford to repeat today.

Second, everyone I met in Iraq was clear that unless the Sunni community can find alternative leadership to Isil then any ground we win may soon be lost, if not to Isil, then “Isil II”. Let's remember Isil didn't just 'emerge'. It grew from a tradition of political Islam decades old and mutated like a Frankenstein monster first by Al-Qaeda, then Al-Qaeda in Iraq, then the Al-Nusra front and now Isil.

Crucial to this warped perversion has been the total breakdown of trust between Iraq's Sunni residents - and the Shi'ite dominated government in Baghdad. In Mosul, for instance, when the Iraqi security forces left, they were stoned in their Humvees by local residents who felt completely humiliated. In refugee camps, it's not hard to find people who didn't flee Da'esh but Shi'ite militia groups.

Now, tracking surveys in Mosul report tension is rising. The Isil regime is sickening people with an obsessive micro-management of the way everyone lives and prays - down to how men must style their beards - with brutal punishment for anyone stepping out of line. Mobile phone coverage is cut. Food prices are rising. Electricity supplies are sporadic. Residents are getting restless. But, the challenge of gaining - and then holding a city of 3 million people will quite simply prove impossible without alternative Sunni leaders: but who are they? Where will they come from? The truth is peace will take politics.

There's one final piece of the puzzle, the PM needs to reflect on. And that's how we project a new unity of purpose. We desperately need to make the case that our cause is for both western and Islamic freedom.

I serve the biggest Muslim community in Britain - and amongst my constituents, especially young people, there's a profound sense that the conduct of this debate is making them feel like the enemy within. Yet my constituents hate Isil's violence as much as anyone else.

In Iraqi Kurdistan, I heard first-hand the extraordinary unity of purpose to destroy Isil with total clarity: “Your fight,” said the Kurdistan prime minister to us “is our fight.” In the refugee camps at Ashti and Bakhara, you can see why. Over a million people have been displaced in Kurdistan - grandparents, parents, children - fleeing to save their children - and losing everything on the way. “Da'esh,” said one very senior Kurdistan official 'aren't fighting to live. They're fighting to die. They're not battling a country or a system. They're battling humanity".

Here in Europe, we are hardwired to the fortunes of Central Asia, by trade, energy needs, investment and immigration. It's a vast region home to the seminal struggles of Israel/Palestine, Sunni/Shia and India/ Pakistan. Yet it's a land with which we share traditions of Abrahamic prophets, Greek philosophy and Arabic science. We need both victory and security. So surely we can't try once again to win a war without a plan for winning a peace. It's time for the prime minister to produce one.

Liam Byrne is Labour MP for Birmingham Hodge Hill, cofounder of the UK-China Young Leaders Roundtable and author of Turning to Face the East: How Britain Prospers in the Asian Century.