Noteworthy

The Arab world's (uneven) progress: A knowledge society is budding. But further reform is needed, for the sake of American security, global prosperity, and Arab dignity. by Kristin Lord in The Christian Science Monitor:

Five years ago, the United Nations published the Arab Human Development Report on Building a Knowledge Society. That widely read – and highly controversial – report found a "knowledge deficit" that threatens human development, economic growth, and the future potential of Arab societies. This week the Brookings Institution published a new study, in Arabic, that evaluates what has and has not changed since 2003.

Political instability may dominate the headlines, but advances in education, science, industry, and economic reform also deserve notice. Access to education has expanded markedly over the past five years. Jordan exceeded the international average on eighth grade science scores for the first time ever. New university campuses, including branches of world-class universities in Qatar's Education City, has enrolled more students each year for the past six years. …

Why does this matter? For Arabs, success or failure in building a knowledge society will shape their collective future. It will mean the difference between wealth and poverty, dynamism and stagnation, frustration and hope.

For the United States and the global community, thriving Arab societies bear the promise of less political instability, less anger and despair, and less animosity toward the West. Such societies would export fewer security threats in form of terrorism, economic disruption, and war.

The conversation by Marc Lynch in The National:

The Obama administration now has the opportunity and the ambition to dramatically transform America’s dialogue with the world. But doing so will require a new approach to engaging with the Arab and Muslim world that moves beyond the “war on terror”. American strategy must also transcend the rift that divides present outreach efforts between “strategic communications” and “public diplomacy”. …

But this is not just a battle over resources between the State Department and the Pentagon (though it is also that). It is a battle over concepts. Strategic communications is about control: dominating the information battlefield, shaping the message, defeating the enemy. Traditional public diplomacy is about relationships: building trust, creating networks, establishing credibility. This requires a longer-term outlook, where nurturing a free and independent media in which a variety of voices, friendly and hostile, can compete on an even playing field is more important than momentary tactical information dominance. If American public diplomacy wears combat boots, what does that say about America’s relationship with the world? …

But we need to rethink the foundations of public diplomacy for the new century, just as the American military was forced to rethink its approach in the face of the debacle in Iraq – a process that produced a much-heralded new counterinsurgency field manual for American troops. What would a new field manual for public diplomacy look like?

DOD says decision not final: Flournoy aims to curtail or nix pentagon's public diplomacy shop by Fawzia Sheikh at InsideDefense.com (sub req’d)

During the confirmation process, Flournoy discussed a need to shift some portfolios to better align the office of the under secretary of defense for policy with the policy objectives of Obama and Gates, Pentagon spokesman Lt. Col. Jonathan Withington told ITP in a Feb. 18 e-mail. Changes will not constitute a significant reorganization of the policy shop, but rather "a shifting of responsibilities," Withington stated.

Flournoy plans to discuss potential organizational shifts with internal and external stakeholders before making specific recommendations to Gates, he added. He said details will be unveiled once decisions are reached.

Pentagon and congressional advocates of the DOD public diplomacy office, however, are privately grumbling. A congressional staffer who oversees defense issues told ITP he has heard "rumblings" for the last several days about this possible policy shift on diplomacy. It would be "a big mistake" to follow through with Flournoy's idea, the congressional staffer asserted.

R.I.P. Rob at Arabic Media Shack notes Sudanense author Tayyab Saleh, a titan of Arabic literature, died. Saleh authored the superb, hard to put down Season of Migration to the North: A Novel. It’s a short read which I, and Rob, recommend.