COLUMBUS, Ohio - "When America is absent, especially from unstable environments, there are consequences. Extremism takes root, our interests suffer; our security at home is threatened."

So declared Hillary Clinton in her final appearance as secretary of state before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. Clinton was referring to the Middle East and the north of Africa, where a chain reaction of events has brought violence to the region.

She was wrong. Our intervention in Libya brought an attack on the Benghazi consulate, resulting in the deaths of four U.S. officials.

That same intervention unleashed military elements of the Tuareg ethnic group - which once had served Col. Moammar Gadhafi - to return to their home area in northern Mali to fight for independence from Mali. The Tuareg nationalists were shoved aside by Islamists, leading to the current French-led military intervention in northern Mali.

Clinton was not challenged on her point. Extremism, however, may be fed by our military presence in that part of the world. Our interests may suffer precisely because of our presence.

The Islamists in Mali are part of what is called al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb. From Mali, these Islamists infiltrated into Algeria, where they took over an oil facility, killing workers there, including three Americans.

The Obama administration is acting on Clinton's view, though with some caution. It is aiding the French in Mali, but is not jumping into a Mali intervention.

Tellingly, we made an arrangement with Niger, which abuts Mali, to operate pilotless drone aircraft from Niger territory.

Drones are used for surveillance but can also fire missiles to kill individuals on the ground. But our drone attacks in Yemen and Pakistan generate anger against the United States.

Reports abound of civilians killed when missiles are fired from drones. The United Nations has just decided to investigate the legality of our drone attacks. If we begin using them in North Africa, we may find new populations aligned against us.

The Obama administration would do well to learn the lessons of recent history. Al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb is the descendant of the mujahedeen - the guerrilla fighters who operated in Afghanistan, starting in 1979.

We funded the Afghani mujahedeen to oppose a pro-Soviet government then in power in Afghanistan. We made life difficult for the USSR in Afghanistan, but after the mujahedeen evicted the pro-Soviet government, they turned their guns on us. It is descendants of the mujahedeen who now plant roadside bombs to drive us out of Afghanistan.

Our financing gave birth to the groups all over the region that use the name al-Qaida. Our longtime backing of Israel over the Palestinians provided these militants a rallying point. Our invasion of Iraq fueled the fire.

A major military presence in the north of Africa, may bring us more blowback.

Yes: US presence fuels extremism

Editor's note

Every Monday we offer pro/con pieces from the McClatchy-Tribune News Service to give readers a broad view of issues.

John B. Quigley is a professor of law at Ohio State University.