Protests in Egypt -- and Other Apocalyptic Changes -- Could Reset Obama's Agenda

Article excerpt

President Obama wanted to focus on job creation. But dramatic unrest in Tunisia, Egypt, and across the Arab world, shaky governments in Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Lebanon, and potential major developments in China and North Korea mean Mr. Obama's priorities in 2011 may not be ones of his choosing.

President Obama wants to concentrate his time in 2011 on job creation and economic expansion at home. But an extraordinary array of challenges abroad may keep his phone ringing during the wee hours of the night.

The explosion of pro-democracy forces in Tunisia, and the dramatic turn of events in Egypt has changed the political landscape in the Arab world and set a-jangle the nerves of tyrants and dictators from Algeria to Libya, Syria to Yemen, and even the Muslim north of Sudan. Nobody can be sure of the outcome, how it will affect the lives of millions of Muslims, the peace process with Israel, or the strategic interests of the United States.

Dramatic reaction

Nobody could have anticipated such a speedily dramatic reaction to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's prescient warning in Qatar earlier this month that Arab states risked "sinking into the sand" if they did not clean up corruption and quicken their glacial pace of political and economic reform. Now the Obama administration must wrestle with cataclysmic changes of a pace it may not have foreseen, balancing the desire for the advance of democratic principles against concern lest the forces of Islamist extremism prosper.

IN PICTURES: Tunisia riots

It is one of America's grandest tenets that the freedoms that are the cornerstone of the American reason for being are not quixotic meanderings but basic rights for all mankind. Mr. Obama, a Nobel Peace Prize winner himself, echoed this when he reasoned with visiting Chinese President Hu Jintao, who has locked up Liu Xiaobo, a Chinese Nobel Peace Prize winner. Mr Hu conceded that "a lot still needs to be done in China in terms of human rights," a position made abundantly clear by the deletion of these remarks in Chinese media. When China's Prime Minister Wen Jiabao, visiting the United States last year, supported the concept of free speech in a CNN interview, his remarks were similarly censored in Chinese media.

Doomed regimes and ideologies

Though repressive regimes and ideologies may not tumble like falling dominoes in the Arab world or lingering communist-run states like China, history suggests that they are doomed. …