12/03/2012 12:12 pm ET Updated Feb 02, 2013

Obama Practices Kabuki War at Home While Managing Potential War Abroad

After the latest fighting between Israel and Hamas, President Barack Obama must figure that campaign-style conflict is far preferable to the real thing.

Obama is engaged in the latest round of political conflict at home, all too reminiscent of the tiresome campaign just past, not to mention previous Beltway fiscal clashes, while real conflicts brew in global hot spots.

Obama is in the midst of seemingly harsh but probably Kabuki-like negotiations over the "fiscal cliff." (Then California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger used to call the ritualized drama that marked the long years of the Golden State's chronic budget crisis "kabuki," referring to the highly stylized Japanese dance-drama. California's lengthy impasse was finally broken last month by Governor Jerry Brown's passage, following his big budget cuts of the past two years, of the Proposition 30 tax-hike initiative.

Do we really think that a "fiscal cliff" disaster is going to happen in the end? If you do, by all means pay attention to every twist and turn. Especially if you never got bored by the campaign high jinks so mercifully just ended.

But throwing himself into the fiscal cliff "war" is preferable for Obama to being thrown into real wars, of which several may be brewing even as the ceasefire in the latest Israel-Hamas conflict continues to hold.

* Egypt's revolution is at a critical stage, with heightened civil strife.

Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi late on Saturday set a December 15th national referendum on the draft constitution produced on Friday by the constituent assembly tasked with that.

On Sunday, the Egyptian Supreme Court, still dominated by appointees of ousted dictator Hosni Mubarak, suspended its activities after encountering a few hundred protesters outside its building. Many had expected the court to try to declare the draft constitution null and void, since the proceedings were dominated by the Muslim Brotherhood. The court previously invalidated the democratically-elected national parliament, in which the lion's share of the seats were won by Muslim Brotherhood candidates.

But the court, choosing not to meet elsewhere, instead punted on the question.

The proposed new constitution, at first glance, actually seems somewhat better, on balance, though hardly in all ways, than the existing constitution. Which isn't all that difficult, since Egypt was a dictatorship marked by torture and detentions. But the new constitution may give broader leeway for interpretations of the already existing foundation of sharia law. Though some think it takes away the possibility of extremist interpretations.

Religious freedom is protected, but only for Muslims, Christians and Jews, i.e., the Abrahamic religions. Equal rights are endorsed but seem too unspecific for women to have any sense of ease.

While opponents are threatening more demonstrations, this time trying to derail a quick national referendum, the Muslim Brotherhood, which held its own large demonstrations this past weekend -- which were larger than those of the opposition -- is already campaigning for its passage.

*There is brand new strife between Israelis and Palestinians.

In the wake of the big UN vote recognizing limited statehood for Palestine, Israel, which has frequently raised Palestinian ire by pursuing aggressive settlement projects in disputed territories, decided late Thursday night to move settlers into one of the most sensitive places in East Jerusalem.

Late on Saturday, another shoe dropped, with the Israeli government saying it will not turn over tax revenues it collects on behalf of the Palestinian Authority to the semi-autonomous government. This could cripple the PA's activities. Which, since many Arabs consider the Palestinian Authority to be the Israeli government's security sub-contractor, could create more problems for Israel as well as for the Palestinians.

Meanwhile, the Hamas-Israel ceasefire brokered by Morsi, with a late push from Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's shuttle diplomacy, continues to hold.

* The lengthy fighting in Syria, which threatens at any moment to overflow across the region, is at a critical stage.

But there is no ceasefire in Syria, where fighting is intensifying around the capital city Damascus, with Assad regime aircraft hitting new rebel strongholds. The Internet was turned off for two days by the Assad regime.

Then there's our Pacific Pivot, our would-be way out of being entangled in every toxic conflict in a highly conflicted region. You can see an archive of my articles related to the geopolitical pivot from over-engagement with the Islamic world of the Middle East and Central Asia to increased engagement with rising Asia and the Pacific by clicking here.

The Obama Administration has other reasons for making the move, of course, namely the importance of the rising Asia-Pacific region and the perceived need to counter would-be superpower China, though of course that's not how administration officials put it.

After months of high tensions over its increasingly aggressive moves in the South China Sea, in which it has attempted to overawe its much smaller neighbors as it claims virtually the entire sea, one of the world's most strategically significant, for itself, China is now issuing new passports to its citizens with maps reflecting its expansive claims there and over disputed border regions with India. It's not going over well.

Meanwhile, North Korea appears to be prepping a long-range missile launch around the middle of December, and perhaps not long before Christmas. South Korea and Japan both have major elections during this time frame, and North Korea may be attempting a political bank shot to influence outcomes. Or maybe they just feel neglected and want some attention around the holidays.

The Hermit State calls it a satellite launch but North Korea is prohibited by the UN from using ballistic missile technology.

North Korea tried a similar launch in April, but the rocket soon failed. However, the U.S. Navy had stationed Aegis cruisers near Honolulu just in case.

As is usually the case with these North Korean episodes, it sounds more than a bit ominous. But there is a reason why the remake of the paranoid '80s movie Red Dawn is a bomb. While it can make a lot of trouble in the region, the idea of North Korea seriously threatening, much less actually invading, the U.S. just isn't serious.

Ironically, the movie, when shot, had a different invader: China. But the burgeoning Chinese movie market was too important to the studio and its backers, so the film was changed in post-production. The Chinese antagonists became North Korean antagonists.

It's deeply silly, of course, but points up perhaps the major reason why potential conflicts in the Asia Pacific region may be more manageable and less irrational than those in the Middle East.

Free of the overhang of deep religious imperative, and the consequent sense of divinely inspired right, people want to prosper. So why not find ways to do it together?

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