Santorum's faux pas secures a win for Romney in Puerto Rico

The more Santorum raises issues that don't need to be raised, the more Romney looks like the most re

A few weeks ago, New York Times columnist Charles Blow was asked by a morning-show host on MSNBC why Rick Santorum keeps raising issues that don't need to be raised.

Instead of maximizing his image of being the grandson of a coal miner, father of seven and a man of faith, Santorum talks about the nausea he felt after reading John F. Kennedy's speech on church-state doctrine and the tendency of American colleges to brainwash youth into accepting the evils of liberalism.

Blow's answer, I think, was pretty much right:

This is part of who Rick Santorum is,.It is always going to surface. It has nothing to do with what's happening in the news. ... He has always wanted to fight on this ground and that is what he is doing and that is going to hurt him.

This is the Santorum who surfaced right before Sunday's GOP primary in Puerto Rico -- and it hurt. The island's primaries are rarely contentious, but this year's nomination had ramped up competition for its 20 delegates. That's why Santorum and rival Mitt Romney spent two days stumping in the commonwealth.

But during a town hall meeting, Santorum blow it all away when he said English had to be the first language of any American state. Later on, he clarified his remarks: "Like any other state, there has to be compliance with this and any other federal law. And that is that English has to be the principal language."

There is no such law nor is there any such language requirement enshrined in the US constitution. Nevertheless, a howler like that might have been ignored if Puerto Ricans weren't set to vote in November on whether to vote for statehood. As Albor Ruiz of the New York Daily News wrote:

His comments exploded like a bomb ... It is difficult to believe that even Santorum could have made a mistake so stupid it could guarantee a Romney victory.

It did. Romney won by a landslide, with 83 per cent of votes. Santorum got 8 per cent; Newt Gingrich got 3 per cent.

This is the longest GOP nomination in memory, and the longer it goes, the more moderate Romney appears compared to Santorum. Indeed, this all might be according to plan. Romney has already locked up a lead that's probably insurmountable. Now, he's pivoting from the rhetoric of radicalism to the rhetoric of moderation, where he's most comfortable. The more Santorum raises issues that don't need to be raised, the more Romney will look like the most reasonable guy in the room.

It strikes me that Puerto Rico has something to say about the future of the Republican Party -- ostensible moderates like Romney are more appealing to Latinos than fanatics. As Blow said, Santorum "scares the bejesus out of people."

Though Santorum is Catholic, and though Puerto Rico voters are largely Catholic, they, like their counterparts on the mainland, have rallied around the Latter-Day Saint. The future of the GOP is multicultural, but how can it do that without abandoning a xenophobic past? It probably can't. That is, unless Romney wins. That wouldn't be good for the U.S., but it might be for the GOP.

 

John Stoehr teaches writing at Yale. His essays and journalism have appeared in The American Prospect, Reuters Opinion, the Guardian, and Dissent, among other publications. He is a political blogger for The Washington Spectator and a frequent contributor to Al Jazeera English.

 

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Qatar is determined to stand up to its Gulf neighbours – but at what price?

The tensions date back to the maverick rule of Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani.

For much of the two decades plus since Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani deposed his father to become emir of Qatar, the tiny gas-rich emirate’s foreign policy has been built around two guiding principles: differentiating itself from its Gulf neighbours, particularly the regional Arab hegemon Saudi Arabia, and insulating itself from Saudi influence. Over the past two months, Hamad’s strategy has been put to the test. From a Qatari perspective it has paid off. But at what cost?

When Hamad became emir in 1995, he instantly ruffled feathers. He walked out of a meeting of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) because, he believed, Saudi Arabia had jumped the queue to take on the council’s rotating presidency. Hamad also spurned the offer of mediation from the then-President of the United Arab Emirates (UAE) Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan al-Nahyan. This further angered his neighbours, who began making public overtures towards Khalifa, the deposed emir, who was soon in Abu Dhabi and promising a swift return to power in Doha. In 1996, Hamad accused Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and the UAE of sponsoring a coup attempt against Hamad, bringing GCC relations to a then-all-time low.

Read more: How to end the stand off in the Gulf

The spat was ultimately resolved, as were a series of border and territory disputes between Qatar, Bahrain and Saudi Arabia, but mistrust of Hamad - and vice versa - has lingered ever since. As crown prince, Hamad and his key ally Hamad bin Jassim al-Thani had pushed for Qatar to throw off what they saw as the yoke of Saudi dominance in the Gulf, in part by developing the country’s huge gas reserves and exporting liquefied gas on ships, rather than through pipelines that ran through neighbouring states. Doing so freed Qatar from the influence of the Organisation of Petroleum Exporting Countries, the Saudi-dominated oil cartel which sets oil output levels and tries to set oil market prices, but does not have a say on gas production. It also helped the country avoid entering into a mooted GCC-wide gas network that would have seen its neighbours control transport links or dictate the – likely low - price for its main natural resource.

Qatar has since become the richest per-capita country in the world. Hamad invested the windfall in soft power, building the Al Jazeera media network and spending freely in developing and conflict-afflicted countries. By developing its gas resources in joint venture with Western firms including the US’s Exxon Mobil and France’s Total, it has created important relationships with senior officials in those countries. Its decision to house a major US military base – the Al Udeid facility is the largest American base in the Middle East, and is crucial to US military efforts in Iraq, Syria and Afghanistan – Qatar has made itself an important partner to a major Western power. Turkey, a regional ally, has also built a military base in Qatar.

Hamad and Hamad bin Jassem also worked to place themselves as mediators in a range of conflicts in Sudan, Somalia and Yemen and beyond, and as a base for exiled dissidents. They sold Qatar as a promoter of dialogue and tolerance, although there is an open question as to whether this attitude extends to Qatar itself. The country, much like its neighbours, is still an absolute monarchy in which there is little in the way of real free speech or space for dissent. Qatar’s critics, meanwhile, argue that its claims to promote human rights and free speech really boil down to an attempt to empower the Muslim Brotherhood. Doha funded Muslim Brotherhood-linked groups during and after the Arab Spring uprisings of 2011, while Al Jazeera cheerleaded protest movements, much to the chagrin of Qatar's neighbours. They see the group as a powerful threat to their dynastic rule and argue that the Brotherhood is a “gateway drug” to jihadism. In 2013,  after Western allies became concerned that Qatar had inadvertently funded jihadist groups in Libya and Syria, Hamad was forced to step down in favour of his son Tamim. Soon, Tamim came under pressure from Qatar’s neighbours to rein in his father’s maverick policies.

Today, Qatar has a high degree of economic independence from its neighbours and powerful friends abroad. Officials in Doha reckon that this should be enough to stave off the advances of the “Quad” of countries – Bahrain, Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the UAE - that have been trying to isolate the emirate since June. They have been doing this by cutting off diplomatic and trade ties, and labelling Qatar a state sponsor of terror groups. For the Quad, the aim is to end what it sees as Qatar’s disruptive presence in the region. For officials in Doha, it is an attempt to impinge on the country’s sovereignty and turn Qatar into a vassal state. So far, the strategies put in place by Hamad to insure Qatar from regional pressure have paid off. But how long can this last?

Qatar’s Western allies are also Saudi Arabia and the UAE’s. Thus far, they have been paralysed by indecision over the standoff, and after failed mediation attempts have decided to leave the task of resolving what they see as a “family affair” to the Emir of Kuwait, Sabah al-Sabah. As long as the Quad limits itself to economic and diplomatic attacks, they are unlikely to pick a side. It is by no means clear they would side with Doha in a pinch (President Trump, in defiance of the US foreign policy establishment, has made his feelings clear on the issue). Although accusations that Qatar sponsors extremists are no more true than similar charges made against Saudi Arabia or Kuwait – sympathetic local populations and lax banking regulations tend to be the major issue – few Western politicians want to be seen backing an ally, that in turn many diplomats see as backing multiple horses.

Meanwhile, although Qatar is a rich country, the standoff is hurting its economy. Reuters reports that there are concerns that the country’s massive $300bn in foreign assets might not be as liquid as many assume. This means that although it has plenty of money abroad, it could face a cash crunch if the crisis rolls on.

Qatar might not like its neighbours, but it can’t simply cut itself off from the Gulf and float on to a new location. At some point, there will need to be a resolution. But with the Quad seemingly happy with the current status quo, and Hamad’s insurance policies paying off, a solution looks some way off.