Defense Secretary Ash Carter, on inaugural trip to Asia

Published 9:59 am Monday, April 6, 2015

WASHINGTON — Islamic extremists grab parts of Iraq and Syria. Yemen slides into civil war. Iran’s nuclear program strains U.S. relations with Israel. Ukraine fights Russian-backed separatists.

At a time of crisis across the Middle East and beyond, the Obama administration is trying to keep its focus on a widely advertised shift to Asia.

The administration has pursued the strategy since 2011, arguing that no region is more important to the United States’ long-term interests than Asia, particularly as the rise of China jangles nerves in other Asian capitals.

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Yet the volatile Middle East keeps drawing back the attention of U.S. policymakers, and the U.S. military.

A year ago, it seemed unlikely the U.S. would have troops back in Iraq after completing its withdrawal in 2011. The rise of the Islamic State group has put fractious Iraq back on the U.S. front burner. Meanwhile, the White House is pumping the brakes on planned U.S. troop withdrawals from Afghanistan this year.