You may have noticed this very early in the debate: 

We don’t want another Iraq, we don’t want another Afghanistan. That’s not the right course for us. The right course for us is to make sure that we go after the — the people who are leaders of these various anti-American groups and these — these jihadists, but also help the Muslim world.

And how do we do that? A group of Arab scholars came together, organized by the U.N., to look at how we can help the — the world reject these — these terrorists. And the answer they came up with was this:

One, more economic development. We should key our foreign aid, our direct foreign investment, and that of our friends, we should coordinate it to make sure that we — we push back and give them more economic development.

Number two, better education.

Number three, gender equality.

Number four, the rule of law. We have to help these nations create civil societies. (emphasis mine)

Mitt Romney was almost certainly referring to the Arab Human Development Report. This is a groundbreaking study organized by the United Nations Development Program that gives regional scholars a platform to write dispassionate, self critical assessments of the Arab world’s progress on a myriad of social development indicators. This includes indices like literacy rates; internet access; maternal mortality rates; primary school enrollment; adolescent fertility rates; higher educational attainment; among others.

Kofi Annan kicked off this initiative in 2002, over the objections of some countries in the region that didn’t like the idea of being judged. There have been five reports since then,  each with its own theme. “Opportunity” was the theme of the first report, which “challenged the Arab world to overcome three deficits: the freedom deficit, women’s empowerment, and the knowledge deficit.” The next report is due in early 2012 and will be organized around the concept of “empowerment.” This report will unveil a mechanism to measure relative empowerment and disempowerment in the Arab World.

The Arab Human Development Report has proven to be a very worthy endeavor; some credit it with laying the intellectual groundwork for the Arab Spring.  We should all be glad that the Republican challenger for the American Presidency cited the report so approvingly last night.

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