Obama’s Asia trip marred by Mideast strife

McClatchy Newspapers /

YANGON, Myanmar — Welcomed by U.S. friend Thailand and greeted with rock-star status during a historic visit to Myanmar, President Barack Obama felt the love on much of his three-nation tour of Southeast Asia. The tour was overshadowed, though, by violence in the Middle East, and the verdict is still out on whether he achieved tangible results in a region that’s often felt neglected by Washington.

A “Pivot to Asia” was the central theme of Obama’s trip, a signal of the administration’s planned second-term emphasis on improved relations with countries that share the region with an increasingly assertive China. He returns to Washington early today.

Yet as Obama and key administration officials tried to devote quality time and attention to Asia during their stops in Thailand, Myanmar and Cambodia — the latter two hosting a U.S. president for the first time — he found himself pivoting back to the Middle East and a violent confrontation between Israel and Palestinian militants in Gaza.

Obama on Tuesday dispatched Secretary of State Hillary Clinton from Asia directly to the Middle East.

“Having Clinton fly directly from Asia to the fires in the Middle East reminds Asia that the conflict in Gaza and Middle East strife in general is like a jealous lover, always calling the U.S. high-level political focus away from Asia,” said Ernest Bower, of the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington.

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