Two New Jersey men, Mohamed Mahmood Alessa and Carlos Eduardo Almonte, were arrested at JFK airport yesterday on suspicion of trying to join Al-Shabaab, the Somali terrorist group that has been affiliated with al-Qaeda. I've written about this before, but in light of the arrests, it's worth pointing out again that this group -- which has recruited more Americans than any other al-Qaeda allied organization, including the first American suicide bomber -- would not have existed in its current form were it not for the Bush-backed Ethiopian invasion of Somalia in 2006.

The Bush administration intervened because it wanted to depose the Islamic Courts Union (ICU), which ruled harshly but provided stability and had some relatively moderate elements. The invasion empowered the hardliners, and a former ICU leader who was later elected president and imposed Sharia law anyway. The ongoing civil war between Islamic radicals and the unstable government has drawn hundreds of terror recruits from around the world. This whole situation is a lesson in the unintended consequences of military intervention.

As the situation in Somalia shows, discrediting al-Qaeda and its allies and drying up their recruiting pool cannot be achieved through military means alone. Having attempted to do so in Somalia in 2006, the U.S. helped empower a terrorist organization that has shown an uncanny ability to recruit Americans -- even for high-profile leadership positions. As I explained last year:

The problem isn't just, as Matthew Yglesias wrote last year, that the invasion bred "a new generation of anti-American jihadists." It's that it's breeding them here.

Americans have long been used to measuring the efficacy of counterterrorism policy by whether or not there have been attacks on the homeland, but as Malcolm Nance has persuasively argued in his book, this is a deeply flawed metric. Part of measuring the success of counterterrorism policy is the ease with which terror groups set up franchises and attract recruits, and by these standards, Al Shabaab remains a glaring failure.

-- A. Serwer

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