The end of heroic diplomacy
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There is a deeper point here: The biggest issue in the world today is growth, and, in this information age, improving educational outcomes for more young people is now the most important lever for increasing economic growth and narrowing income inequality. In other words, education is now the key to sustainable power. To have a secretary of state who is one of the world's leading authorities on education, well, everyone would want to talk to him. For instance, it would be very helpful to have a secretary of state who can start a negotiating session with Hamas leaders (if we ever talk with them) by asking: "Do you know how far behind your kids are?" That might actually work better than: "Why don't you recognise Israel?"
"The biggest issue in the world today is growth, and the world is divided into two groups — those who get it and those who don't," said Michael Mandelbaum, the Johns Hopkins University foreign policy expert. "If you're dealing with the Middle East, it might actually be helpful to have someone who can tell some of the parties why they are going in the wrong direction and how their problems are not what they think they are, nor are their solutions."
Indeed, Islam is one of the world's great monotheistic faiths, but it is not the answer to Arab development today. Math is the answer. Education is the answer. Getting the Middle East to focus on that would do more to further our interests and their prosperity than anything else. As we are seeing in Egypt, suddenly creating a mass democracy without improving mass education is highly unstable.
At the same time, as our foreign budget shrinks, more and more of it will have to be converted from traditional grants to "Races to the Top," which Duncan's Education Department pioneered in US school reform. We will have to tell needy countries that whoever comes up with the best ideas for educating their young women and girls or incentivising start-ups or strengthening their rule-of-law will get our scarce foreign aid dollars. That race is the future of foreign aid.