The Juicy Details of Romney’s Middle Eastern ‘Learning and Listening Tour’

Though Romney furnished a written statement in response to the Tucson tragedy, some are wondering why Romney hasn’t uploaded a lengthy facebook video statement on the matter. Some are saying Mitt’s been a tad bit silent, even distant — and they’re right. For the past week or so, Governor Romney has been meeting with the most powerful figures in the Middle East, sleeping in military barracks, test driving innovative electronic vehicles, headlining leadership conventions, and simply absorbing the input of concerned citizens and foreign dignitaries.

It’s always hard to trace Romney’s steps; the guy just never stands still for too long. The best attempt I’ve seen, though, comes from the Boston Globe’s Farah Stockman. Considering Romney has declined press interviews, the info Farah managed to scrape up is really quite intriguing. Here you are:

KABUL, Afghanistan — Former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney traveled aboard a private jet, slept in a trailer at a US military base, and met with this war-weary nation’s top leaders. But the most telling moment of Romney’s whirlwind foreign tour this week might have come when he stood before 120 young Afghans and talked about the benefits and potential dangers of democracy.

Speaking in a capital partly destroyed by personal militias, and rebuilt, in part, by opium profits, Romney said: “Democracy opens the door not just for good people but also for bad people. There will be those who will use freedom to take from others for themselves.’’

Romney’s advice: “Look for good leaders and support them…. Make sure the nation knows good from bad.’’

Far from the sometimes-boiling partisan atmosphere back home, Romney sought to present a more nuanced side of himself during what his staff described as an important listening and learning tour — one that is bound to be seen as another step in his preparation for a likely second run for the presidency.

Yesterday, Romney had breakfast with Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and he is scheduled to meet today with Palestinian Authority prime minister Salam Fayad.

He is seeking advice on foreign policy matters, asking questions of foreign and US military leaders.

Throughout the trip, Romney has avoided public events and the press.

Mitt Romney at a conference with future leaders of Afghanistan. IMAGE COURTESY: The Boston Globe

Indeed, Romney spent most of his three days in Kabul asking Afghans what they think about the challenges ahead, according to Lorne Craner, president of the International Republican Institute, the nonprofit group that supports political engagement overseas and that organized Romney’s travel to Afghanistan.

Romney arrived in Afghanistan on Sunday and held a discussion about governance with six Afghan governors, most of whom head provincial governments that are struggling against a Taliban resurgence and a faltering economy based on the illegal opium trade.

On Tuesday, he spoke to the Afghan Youth National Service, a nationwide organization of 18 to 35 year olds that includes several new members of Parliament.

Romney also held private meetings with some of the most powerful people in the country: President Hamid Karzai, US General David Petraeus, and US Ambassador Karl Eikenberry.

Mitt Romney meets with General Patraeus and US troops in Afghanistan

On Monday night, he dined at the home of Ashraf Ghani, a former Afghan finance minister who is now chief adviser to Karzai and cochairman of the committee charged with transferring security from NATO and the United States to Afghanistan by 2014. During the dinner, Romney fired off questions around the dinner table to Ghani, a former World Bank official.

Ghani said many of Romney’s questions focused on how to ensure the best relations between the two countries, as if he were a head of state.

“His questions were that of a United States leader, with an eye to the highest office of the land,’’ Ghani said. “But he was engaged, thoroughly prepared and was really looking to learn. His attitude was one of engagement, not of preaching from a position that was fixed.’’ (emphasis mine)

During his speech Tuesday before an attentive audience, Romney urged his listeners to communicate their successes in government reform to the public. He urged the young Afghans to find their “own personal way of serving’’ their country.

But one questioner quickly turned the tables on him. “Are you running for president in 2012?’’ asked a man in a yellow turban, through an interpreter.

Romney reverted to political mode with his stock answer: “I have not yet made a decision about running for office again.’’

Looking forward to see how this trip guides Romney’s foreign policy talking points moving forward to the debates. Ahh… the debates: so close, yet so stinkin’ far away. I can’t wait.

-Aaron Gundy- Follow @AaronGundy on Twitter

~Update from Ross
Romney’s most recent tweet: “Visited Sderot, Israel where rockets land–inspired by Israeli courage.”

Also, Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney met Thursday with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu who aides say plans sessions with all the serious potential 2012 Republican presidential hopefuls.

Netanyahu’s office said the two “discussed a series of issues, including advancing the peace process between Israel and the Palestinians, which will be based on security, and the challenge to the international community posed by the Iranian nuclear program.”

Read more:

Aaron Gundy

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20 Responses to The Juicy Details of Romney’s Middle Eastern ‘Learning and Listening Tour’

  1. Noelle says:

    Mitt Romney is once again setting the standard for professionalism, dedication and hard work as he prepares to run for president in 2012. Time and again he demonstrates that he is the BEST candidate.

    Romney 2012

  2. Sam says:

    Fantastic article. This is the stuff I like to hear about.

  3. Georgia Tauchas says:

    I am so ready for Mitt Romney to be President!

  4. As the grandson and son of US Veterans, I find it grossly
    offensive that in 2008, Willard Mitt Romney equated Mormon
    missionary work abroad, undertaken by his sons, as on par with the
    gallant service exhibited by our glorious men and women of the
    armed forces of the Republic.

  5. Jared A. says:

    I can’t wait for Mitt Romney to be in the White House!!

  6. Mark F. says:

    Mitt, always getting the groundwork in place…

  7. KATHYE says:

    @Georgia Tauchas
    ditto.agree can’t wait for this guy to be in the white house..mitt is really a leader, this country really needs him……………………….2012 can’t be here soon enough

  8. Mark F. says:

    Finally, a capable leader. A breath of fresh air. I pray to God that Romney will run.

  9. John Paul says:

    @Carlos Echevarria
    You are proud of your grandfathers honorable service. Mitt also has ancestors who participated in the Mormon Battalion march. They hold the record for the longest US military march in history. My dad was in the doctor raft in viet nam and served a mission in Seattle. My brother served a mission in Puerto Rico and is currently in Afghanistan (we skype regularly, technology is amazing). I served a spanish speaking mission in el paso and as an MP (pre 9/11). I don’t find it offensive that he equated foreign mission work with military work. Therer are many similarities. They are both extremely hard work and are acts of service. Of course the one doesn’t have a sargeant yelling down your neck but in my experience they are very similar in the level of dedication and discipline required.

  10. @ John Paul

    Thank you for your response to my comments. Actually, ex Governor Romney took back that faux pas in the campaign a couple of days after he uttered it, off the cuff.

    The comparison was his background and that of his 5 children to that of the American Patriot and War Hero, Senator McCain and his descendants (all the way back to the Revolutionary War on both maternal & paternal sides), up till and including the good Marine, Jimmy McCain’s Al Anbar Province, experience. (at its worse, prior to the surge!)

    With respect to Mormon missionary activity abroad, are you really going propound the argument that from a safety & duty to the Republic perspective it is on par with men and women in combat, be it Iraq, Afghanistan, etc????

    Romney’s point, which he retracted a couple of days later, and even in a debate, was that service to the promotion of The Book of Mormon and Mormonism, in general, was equal in terms of patriotism…..

    I appreciate your tenure and those of your family, as well, in terms of the armed forces.

    Best Regards.

    BTW, though I did not support him, I am very good personal & family friends with Al Cardenas and Raul Pozo, which ran the Romney effort in Florida in 2008.

  11. Aaron Gundy says:

    @Carlos Echevarria On any given day in 2007 there were several “ask Mitt anything” meetings scheduled. These were mostly really great brain-picking sessions for Mitt, but they did produce some rushed answers that Mitt undoubtedly regretted. The military/5 sons question was one of them.

    Like John Paul said, LDS missions don’t impede young men from serving in the military. My Grandpa was a boat medic stationed outside of the Philippians in WWII; he served an LDS mission in South Carolina. My other Grandpa earned a Purple Heart for his service in Japan; He served an LDS mission, too. My dad was in the Army; served an LDS mission in Illinois. My best friend just returned from a tour in Iraq with the Marines; he served an LDS mission in Brazil. I could go on and on….

    That said, I do have 7 brothers… none of whom served in the military. That’s not to say that they aren’t proud of their country; rather, they chose different paths. Had there ever been a draft in place, I don’t doubt they (we) all would have flocked to the recruiting office.

    Those of use who haven’t served are super grateful for those that have. At the same time, it really isn’t cool for those who have served to rub it in the face of those who chose a different path. That’s freedom, baby!

  12. Zeek says:

    I appreciate the candor. I remember Mr. Romney acknowledging his poor choice of wording. Like others my father served 4 years in the navy during WW2 then returned home to serve a mission for his church. My uncle spent years as a POW. My grandparents listened to the radio news about war as each of my uncles served, or were captured or wounded. My brother in law served a mission in Japan and then for years served in the army reserves. He was deployed from his family in desert storm. We apologize for any miscommunication that equates the dangers and sacrifices of military service to missions. Like Mitt Romney we Honor the military service of those in and out of our faith, and acknowledge our debt to them. Those who serve missions come back with a love of those people and cultures, but with a reverent awe, and profound love for the greatness of our own country; But they or I never made the total sacrifice of military people. It is important to remember we all registered for the draft and would have gone willingly if called.

  13. Stephen says:

    From memory, Mitt was defending his sons non-military record from a “gotcha” question at a Town Hall meeting. He later regretted his reply to the effect that his sons service in helping to get him elected was similar to military service for the country. It was an obvious over-statement for which he was humble enough to apologise later. He never at any time compared military service to the work of LDS Missionaries throughout the world, nor he ever would.
    Anyone who knows the Romney family, knows of their love for their country. Mitt will make an excellent Commander-in-Chief.

  14. @ Aaron Gundy

    “At the same time, it really isn’t cool for those who have served to rub it in the face of those who chose a different path. That’s freedom, baby!”

    I am somewhat at a loss, as per this comment??? I made my initial statement above, actually doing those of you on Team Romney a favor, by trying have him obviate any similar rhetoric, as ex Gov. Romney continues on his foreign policy junket.

    Moreover, I concede in my points above that he mis-spoke and retracted it a couple of days later…no harm, no foul if you will, all politicians, since the beginning of time, have had those type of situations.

    Nor do I assign any nefarious connotation to his view of the Armed Forces and the history of our nation, in that regard.

    As per LDS missionary activity, again, I do not draw a pejorative correlation between having been a missionary (I actually live really close to a temple here and have interacted with many of them over the years, though I am Roman Catholic) and serving in the armed forces…..but empirically, they are NOT on par.

    @ Zeek,

    I appreciate your kind words and as I, myself, stated above he corrected himself a couple of days later when pressed on the matter.

    Personally, I have never served our Republic in an “official” or overt capacity, but let’s just stay that over the last 15 years in Central and South America, as well as the Caribbean, I have advanced the national security interests of the country.

    My father worked for the “company”, though he is now officially retired, he does remain a “consultant” and is a Bay of Pigs Veteran. (along with my deceased grandfather, only 11 cases of father & son jointly in combat during that expedition-April 1961)

    @ Stephen,

    Yes, I know Romney’s background quite well, from his grandfather’s Mexico connection, to his father’s governorship of Michigan, his run in ’68 (need I remind you of another foreign policy snafu) and participation in the Nixon administration, as HUD secretary.

    Without even mentioning his run against Sen Kennedy in 1994, his background in terms of the Bain Capital/Carlyle Group, his efforts at the Utah winter Olympics and governorship in Massachusetts, etc….and his relationship to the Bush Family & Brent Scowcroft.

    As an aside, respectfully, I have always wondered how, from a Mormon perspective, interaction with Dunkin Donuts, which is predicated on the sale of caffeine and high sugar products, is justified, in terms of Bain/Carlyle purchasing it in ’06??? But I would imagine it it is the same paradigm as the Marriott Hotel chain model and many of Howard Hughes financial advisers during his Vegas era.

    Finally, as per POTUS in 2012, I will, like I have done for over 20 years and my family for over 60 years, opt for the GOP candidate which emanates from Tampa (my home state) in August of 2012!

    Good luck to those of you in the Florida Team Romney campaign (I am, as of today, with Sen Thune) but I wish you well…Godspeed

  15. Aaron Gundy says:

    @Carlos Echevarria Forgive me for coming off a little defensive. After all, just prior to my comment I had quite an unpleasant exchange with you on twitter –> Seen Here.

    Your tweet: “@AaronGundy U are obviously a Steele hater & anti Catholic bigot, how many MR sons went to Kabul? since their missionary work=mil service:

    All that, only because I found fault in your earlier tweet: “The fix is in at the RNC for a fake chairman to goose step to the commands of Mitt Romney and his crew of Salt Lake City thugs”

    ….So you can see how I was unsure of your motives in commenting on this post; but you’ve proven yourself civil — so welcome! Stick around, comment, and come back often :)

  16. @ Aaron Gundy,

    The ouster of Chairman Michael Stephen Steele was carried by various factions within the GOP, primarily that of Saul Anuzis, the former head of the party in Michigan and one of Romney’s point men in 2008.

    It was no secret that individuals like Karl Rove and others, proudly and openly in the Romney camp, have been gunning for Steele, for a long time.

    Sadly, I do believe that part of that stemmed from the fact Steele was a proud Roman Catholic and, as I am sure you know, better than me, made very critical remarks of Romney in the past, particularly as to how his faith would play in certain, early Southern primaries. (with Evangelicals, Southern Baptists, etc.)

    The path to the nomination with Steele out of the way benefits Romney, more than any other candidate, without a shadow of a doubt.

    Was Steele without faults, of course not….did he make mistakes along the way, yes. Did we need to re-double our efforts regarding the debt and fund raising, especially with Plouffe and Axelrod probably having a billion at their disposal next year, yes, again.

    But he brought us out of the desert, if you will and led the party to victory in 2009, early 2010 and November 2010. (and if we would have picked the right candidates in NV, CO and DE, we would have had 3 more Senators in our ranks)

    Having said that my rhetoric was definitely overly caustic and personal and I deeply apologize for that, especially since I did not know your background.

    At the end of the day, like I said, whoever it is on the GOP ledger I will be there and if it is ex Governor Romney, be rest assured I will do everything in my humble power here in South Florida to get him elected over Pres. Obama.

    Best Regards.

  17. Aaron Gundy says:

    @Carlos Echevarria Apology accepted.

    I can just say a few things very honestly in reply to your comment:

    – I hadn’t the slightest idea of which religion Steele professed.
    – I thought was a great Chairman, just thought change would be nice for the party.
    – I was aware that Anuzis was a Romney guy — and I won’t lie that I was rooting for him.
    – That said, I never saw Steele as a huge detractor for Mitt. They had their difference, but there’s room for all in the big tent.

    I don’t even know who this Priebus guy is, but I hope he does well. We have a lot of rebuilding to do before 2012.

    Appreciate your eventual support for Romney :)

  18. Stephen says:

    Thanks for your comments.
    Question, will you back Romney if Senator Thune decides not to run (or pulls out early) and particularly if he (Mitt) is endorsed by Rubio?

  19. Lori says:

    Dear Carlos E. You are mistaken. There was no equating military experience to missionary work. I do believe Romney mentioned the work his sons were doing on his campaign and he recognized the great sacrifice they were making and all because they beleived it would serve their country best to see their dad leading this great nation. He never meant to equate his campaign work to the very hard work our service men and women do. And if he said such a thing he it was because he misspoke.

    Please don’t get everyone here in a tizzy about military vs missionary. There is no comparison although both are worthy efforts in my view. One protects the nation and defends the right to worship God, the other draws others nearer to God. Both are hard work, both require sacrifice and both leave the world a better place. But the work itself could not be more different.

  20. @ Lori

    Respectfully and factually, he did do just that, everyone above has confirmed he did and I, in turn, said I don’t think he did it in bad faith, per se….it was a slip up, see my comments above.

    Moreover, (see above) I have NO issues with missionary activity regarding LDS. I am pretty versed in your faith and I, remember kindly, how President Brigham Young welcomed & protected the rights of Roman Catholics, in Deseret/Utah Territory, at a time when we were viciously discriminated, in some sectors of the country.

    This being re-confirmed by the relatively recent visit of Francis Cardinal George, from Chicago, at that time head of the USCCB, to LDS Headquarters. (It was pretty moving as they all did the Our Father in union!)

    Also, in terms of this, I have great respect for President Monson…in his incisive inauguration speech, after the death of President Hinckley, he cited Saint Sir Thomas More, (praising his predecessor) which as you probably know is in the top pantheon of Roman Catholic saints, in terms of the political sphere.

    @ Stephen

    That is a very interesting question, in terms of both Thune and Rubio.

    To be frank, my first choice is Gov Perry from Texas but, and it is still early in the process, I have only received/obtained, via back door channels, at this point in time, positive feedback from the Senator’s office. (nothing official but implicit)

    I have followed Marco Rubio’s trajectory ever since he became the first Cuban American Speaker of the Florida House of Representative in Tallahassee…my father is very close with Al Lorenzo (kind of a mini Karl Rove-Dick Morris figure) in South Florida and he was the one that, initially years ago, catapulted Rubio to statewide prominence, though he did not run the Senatorial campaign in ’10.

    Just yesterday, Rubio was in Afghanistan….six degrees of separation, right, LOL, especially with Romney just being there!!!!

    Now Rubio is a big Huck guy, he ran his campaign in 2008 for President and Rubio was able to tap into, via him, the Evangelicals and Southern Baptists base in northern Florida & the Panhandle areas, during his Senate race. (there is a little local controversy with Rubio regarding his personal faith, btw, but I will leave that for another comments thread)

    He is definitely being bandied around, in terms of VP talk, with Florida in play as a swing state (the Tampa convention should give us a boost, too) and an attempt to woo back certain elements of the Hispanic base.

    Romney-Rubio….has a certain ring to that, right, 

    My support is open, of course, if Romney dangles me some sort of federal or quasi private sector gig in Italy (dealing with Silvio), or France (dealing with Sarkozy), or Czech Republic (dealing with Klaus), just kiddingggggggggggg, best regards to all