Passport

The Election 2012 Weekly Report: Slouching Toward Tampa

Southern man don't need him around, anyhow

Frontrunner Mitt Romney's difficulties in the South continued this week with Rick Santorum picking up wins in Mississippi and Alabama on Tuesday. Despite strong evidence that the contest is becoming a two-man race, Newt Gingrich shows no signs that he's considering dropping out. Romney picked up victories in Hawaii and American Samoa and continues to hold a strong lead in delegates. 

The Afghanistan clock

A poll taken in the days after a U.S. soldier in Afghanistan went on a killing spree, murdering 16 civilians, shows that more than half of Americans support speeding up the U.S. withdrawal from the country. President Barack Obama vowed this week to stick to the current withdrawal timetable, which has U.S. troops handing over security duties to Afghan forces by the end of 2014.

Gingrich surprised many this week by suggesting that "it's very likely that we have lost, tragically lost, the lives and suffered injuries to a considerable number of young Americans on a mission that we're going to discover is not doable." He was immediately criticized for the comment by GOP Senator Lindsay Graham.

Romney cautioned against making a major change in strategy because of the incident. "You don't make an abrupt shift in policy because of the actions of one crazed, deranged person," he said.

Santorum: Foreign policy may be the dominant issue of the campaign?

The conventional wisdom so far in the campaign has been that foreign policy would take a back seat to concerns over the economy. But Santorum suggested this week that with the economic outlook improving somewhat, priorities may be shifting. "That may be the issue of the day come this fall -- a nuclear Iran. Or on the precipice of it [with] Israel potentially having to go to war to stop that development." He continued: "I may not have been a Wall Street private equities fund manager, but I served eight years on the [Senate] Armed Services Committee."

Paul power

With no state victories and only 48 delegates to his name, Ron Paul is beginning to feel like an afterthought in this race. But with the increasingly possibility that this race goes to the convention in Tampa without a clear victor, Paul's support could become a sought-after commodity. There has been rumor and speculation that Paul is tacitly supporting Romney by focusing most of his attacks on Santorum and Gingrich, but the Texas congressman suggested this week that he may not be able to support Romney because of their differences on foreign policy. "I'd talk to him and see what kind of a foreign policy he is going to have," Paul said. "Mitt's a friend and we talk a lot. We just disagree on the issues." Paul also argued that the "Republicans are going to be in trouble unless they come our way and decide they want a president who's more for peace than for war."

Habla político?

With Puerto Rico's primary coming on Sunday, the issue of English as a national language has bubbled up in the campaign. On Wednesday, Santorum suggested that he might be in favor of Puerto Rican statehood, as long as the territory was willing to adopt English as its official language. "Like any other state, there needs to be compliance with this and any other federal law.... And that is that English needs to be the principal language. There are other states with more than one language, like Hawaii, but to be a state of the United States, English must be the principal language."

At least one of Santorum's Puerto Rican delegates withdrew his support over the comment, which Santorum continued to defend on Friday. The Romney campaign issued a mild rebuke, saying, "Governor Romney believes that English is the language of opportunity and supports efforts to expand English proficiency in Puerto Rico and across America. However, he would not, as a prerequisite for statehood, require that the people of Puerto Rico cease using Spanish."

As a point of fact, English is taught in schools in Puerto Rico. The U.S. federal government does not require states to make English the official language, though a number of states have passed laws to that effect.

Algae wars

In recent weeks, Gingrich has reframed his campaign around the issue of gas prices, pledging $2.50-per-gallon gas if he is elected, and repeatedly mocking President Obama for suggesting algae as a potential replacement for fossil fuels. The president fired back this week, accusing GOP candidates of dismissing scientific innovations: "If some of these folks were around when Columbus set sail, they must have been founding members of the Flat Earth Society -- they would not have believed that the world was round."

Gingrich responded, saying "The president maligned me, suggesting I don't like biofuels. That's baloney. I am in favor of science and technology." However, Gingrich said, "no serious study" had suggested that algae could serve as a replacement for oil in the short run.

White House spokesman Jay Carney also suggested this week that any candidate promising $2.50 gas was "lying." He later backed off the comment -- sort of -- saying "I shouldn't have gone to motivations, I should have said that anybody who said that doesn't know what he's talking about."

What to watch for:

Following Missouri's official caucus on Saturday (voters chose Santorum in an unofficial primary back in February) and Puerto Rico's primary on Sunday, Illinois will hold its closely watched primary on Tuesday. Polls show Romney with a slight lead.

The latest from FP:

Michael A. Cohen says that the war in Afghanistan could become a major political liability for the president in November.

David Rothkopf looks at Obama's "cool diplomacy."

Alex Massie argues that the GOP have a lot to learn from David Cameron's Tories.

Oliver Kamm says Cameron is betting on Obama's reelection.

Aaron David Miller has a suggestion for why the GOP has such a hard time attacking Obama on foreign policy.

Scott Clement says the public generally support Obama's wait-and-see approach on Iran.

Stephen Walt argues that if Santorum is serious about becoming president, he must convince Gingrich to drop out.

Michael Peck plays a new game that simulates the twits-and-turns of the 2008 campaign trail.

Joshua Keating looks at Santorum's faith-based approach to Dutch medical statistics.

Sean Gardner/Getty Images

Passport

Take a cruise on Hannibal Qaddafi's supervillain yacht

The yacht that Muammar al-Qaddafi's ne'er do well (even by the standards of the Qaddafi family) son was having built for himself was everything you would expect it to be

Replete with marble columns, gold-framed mirrors and huge statues, the Phoenicia was to have included a 120-tonne tank of seawater for two sand tiger sharks, two white sharks and two blacktip reef sharks. Four resident biologists would have tended to the animals. The sharks' nutritional needs mandated a dedicated food store.

The ship has been bought by MSC Cruises, a major cruise line, which is being a total killjoy and taking out the shark tank and redecorating. “I personally don’t know why, but he wanted a shark tank,” said MSC CEO Pierfrancesco Vago, who has apparently never seen a James Bond movie.