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.”

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