Juan Cole, a Professor of History at the University of Michigan, has stressed that Egypt, after decades of being unproblematic for the US, may be on the verge of becoming a foreign policy challenge of some magnitude in 2011, especially the presidential election is scheduled to take place early this year.
In an article published at Mideastposts website, Juan Cole said: The United States must not lose sight of the seriousness of the situation in Egypt, especially after Saturday's car-bombing of a church in Alexandria, leaving a large number of dead and wounded. Although the government successfully repressed its radicals during the past two decades, they are back on the streets again.
He regards the blast in the light of uncertainty about the person that will govern Egypt which poses a major threat to the country's stability, but the Wikileaks cables suggest that the powerful Egyptian military intelligence chief is not happy with this idea of dynastic succession.
Cole asked if Obama should not take Egypt for granted, but rather should have some subtle and culturally informed contingency plans if its politics abruptly opens up, adding that the Muslim Brotherhood could do well in an election that was not rigged against them.
"The US must not stand in the way of democratization, even if that means greater Muslim fundamentalist influence in the state," he said, adding a more democratic Egypt, like a more democratic Turkey, may not be willing to be complicit with Israeli oppression of the Palestinians.
Turkey, a NATO ally, emerging as a major player in the Middle East, has aspirations and desires to play an active role in the Middle East at the expense of US interests.
Pakistan’s relative stability in 2009 was shaken in 2010 by a series of catastrophes on an almost biblical scale which weakened the government that suffers from political, economic and security problems at a time when Pakistan's Taliban have shown resilience and have struck back with bombings.
The Obama administration was successful in tightening the financial noose on Iran during 2010, but Iran fought back like a cornered rat. The danger of increased US pressure on Iran is that it will take revenge by sabotaging US grand strategy in the Middle East. Iran is already blocking fuel shipments to Afghanistan, which likely hurts NATO and the US as much as it hurts the Afghans.
The Iraqi army, mostly Arab, has come into armed conflict with the Kurdish paramilitary, the Peshmerga, a development that was curbed through the institution of joint patrols with American troops, who act as a buffer. As the US military departs, the question of how the buffer will be maintained arises.
President Hamid Karzai of Afghanistan is acting increasingly erratically, accusing the US of being his country’s enemy and threatening to join the Taliban. His circle is also engaging in corruption on a vast scale, further endangering the legitimacy of the government after the irregularities in both the presidential and parliamentary elections. A rethink of counter-insurgency and a more modest counter-terrorism strategy might be the only way to deal with this threat.
Hostilities could break out if the Palestinians unilaterally declare a state in the summer of 2011, as they now plan to do. The inaction could provoke a third Intifada or uprising. Such a development could also lead to a renewal of fighting between Hamas in Gaza and Israel.
Although so far the Wikileaks revelations have been merely embarrassing, and have had few high-level repercussions, it is possible that they contain bombshells that might yet provoke major diplomatic crises and even high-level resignations or the fall of governments. Obama would be wise to develop contingency plans for such eventualities.
The US should avoid becoming involved in sectarian and tribal troubles in Yemen, a remote and rugged country where feuds are common and profits from the feuds are rare as the US has engaged in drone strikes in that country and wants to use bombers.
The new Republican majority in the House of Representatives will attempt to stampede Obama into keeping troops in Iraq, delaying any withdrawals from Afghanistan, and launching a military strike on Iran.