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Courting Asia, Obama finds that the world intrudes

PHNOM PENH, Cambodia (AP) -- For all the attention wrenched elsewhere in recent days - on new violence in the Middle East, the \fiscal cliff\ back home - President Barack Obama's speedy trip to Southeast Asia achieved a major goal: It was clearly seen in the region as a validation of Asia's strategic importance as the U.S. refocuses its foreign policy to counter China's clout.It wasn't easy. Even in a Buddhist monastery in Thailand, Obama could not escape the budget woes waiting for him back home. And his historic visit to Myanmar was all but drowned out by the rocket fire and missile strikes between Israel and Gaza. He went half a world away to promote U.S.-style democracy but couldn't leave his troubles behind.Even as Obama traipsed in stocking feet through a temple in the heart of Bangkok, a monk wished him luck negotiating the deficit-reduction challenge awaiting him in Washington. And the bloodshed in the Middle East, exploding as he toured Southeast Asia for three days, illustrated the limits of U.S. foreign policy even as he tried to display its influence and reach.But he came away from his trip to this corner of the world - a place once defined by a cloistered and shunned nation like Myanmar or by Khmer Rouge \killing fields\ or by Chinese power -with at least the hope that the example of U.S. democracy can effect change and strengthen America's hand.He made his case clearly during a Bangkok news conference:\It's worked for us for over 200 years now