LAST December, in a canvas tent erected on a building site in rural east Mississippi, Haley Barbour worked the dirt-floored space as deftly as Sonny Rollins on a saxophone. He had come to Kemper County to break ground for a coal-fired gasification plant designed to capture, store and eventually sell most of its emissions. “As long as I’m governor,” he told the crowd, “Mississippi will have an energy policy, and that policy is more energy.” The line, bluff, direct and vintage Barbour, drew cheers.
But Mr Barbour will not be governor much longer. He is in the last year of his second term, and cannot run again. Speculation is mounting that he will run for president, though Mr Barbour says he will make no decision until Mississippi’s legislative session ends in April. Certainly, if he harbours any presidential ambition, this is the time to follow it. By 2016 he will be 68 and five years out of office. Whether he can win is a trickier question.
If he fails it will not be for lack of political skills. After an unsuccessful Senate bid in 1982 he decamped to Washington, where he worked in Ronald Reagan’s White House (his boss there was Mitch Daniels, now governor of Indiana and another potential presidential candidate in 2012), and on George Bush senior’s campaign. He headed the Republican National Committee from 1993 to 1997, during which time his party took control of the House of Representatives for the first time in 42 years. He jointly founded a lobbying firm and turned it into a Washington powerhouse. He is a formidable fund-raiser. As head of the Republican Governors Association during the 2010 elections he funnelled over $100m to races around the country, helping Republicans win 23 of the 37 governors’ mansions in play, including 11 previously occupied by Democrats…
January 23, 2011
Last week’s upheaval showed that citizens of the Arab world are willing and able to overthrow their dictators — and the Obama administration has to figure out how it will respond when they do.
The Sept. 11, 2001, attacks prompted a radical rethinking inside the administration of President George W. Bush about the purposes of American foreign policy — above all in the Middle East. “Realism died on 9/11,” as an administration official said to me several years later. Changing the insides of states had become a matter of national security no less urgent than affecting their external behavior. Bush, previously a hardheaded realist, became an ardent proponent of democracy promotion.
But the problem — or at least the biggest problem — was that while the terrorist attacks had changed the United States, they hadn’t changed the place where the United States hoped to act. Terrorism had made democratic reform more urgent without making it a whit more likely. Autocratic leaders in Egypt, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, and elsewhere regarded the president’s new preoccupation as a mere irritant.
Now, suddenly, unexpectedly, it’s that world, not the United States, that’s changing. The Tunisian people have taken to the streets and ousted a tyrant, just as the people in the Philippines, Chile, Romania, and Georgia once did. And that spectacle has inspired young people and activists across the region. The Tunisian drama may end badly, of course: Protests elsewhere may simmer down, and in any case the conditions that produced this one revolutionary upheaval may turn out to be sui generis. But Arab regimes are shakier today, and their critics more emboldened, than they were before. And Barack Obama, like Bush before him, must adapt to a Middle East different from the one he inherited.
A region that has felt paralyzed by autocratic rule is now in motion. Leaders are backpedaling: The emir of Kuwait abruptly announced that he would distribute $4 billion in cash and free food to citizens. President Hosni Mubarak of Egypt issued a call for investment in Arab youth. You can almost smell the fear in the likes of Ahmed Aboul Gheit, Egypt’s foreign minister, who informed the country’s official press agency that “the talk about the spread of what happened in Tunisia to other countries is nonsense.”
Egypt, where the increasingly frail and profoundly unpopular Mubarak, age 82, seems prepared to run for president once again this year, looks especially vulnerable. At least three desperate protesters there have set themselves on fire in imitation of Mohamed Bouazizi, the Tunisian street vendor whose self-immolation sparked the uprising in Tunisia. The bombing of a Coptic Christian church in Alexandria on New Year’s Day, which killed 21, has exposed frightening new divisions in the country. And Egyptian leaders are angrily pushing back against outside criticism. Aboul Gheitcalled on a group of Arab foreign ministers meeting in the resort town of Sharm-el-Sheikh this week to adopt a resolution telling the West: “Do not dare interfere in our affairs.”
Aboul Gheit was reacting not only to criticism following the New Year’s Day bombing, but to aspeech his American counterpart, Hillary Clinton, had just delivered in Doha on January 13, warning that people in many parts of the Arab world “have grown tired of corrupt institutions and a stagnant political order” and imploring states to demonstrate a commitment to the rule of law and the inclusion of civil society. One way of framing the choices facing Obama: Should he now be more willing, or less, to risk infuriating autocratic allies through public criticism?
Until now, U.S. officials, above all Clinton, have almost always chosen circumspection. And they’ve had at least a plausible rationale: Bush took a different approach and failed. In 2005, both Bush and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice publicly criticized Mubarak’s regime and demanded that it hold free and fair elections. Mubarak first gave ground, and then cracked down on the opposition; the White House, fearful of offending a key ally and worried about the growing popularity of the Muslim Brotherhood, held its tongue. Obama discarded Bush’s crusading moralism in favor of “engagement,” which dictated a more respectful stance toward regimes…