Long before he went on the defensive for his handling of the failed Christmas Day airline bombing, Obama had widened the list of US targets abroad and stepped up the pace of airstrikes. The death of Pakistani Taliban leader Baitullah Mehsud in August marked his first major victory in a campaign the administration believes can be waged even more aggressively than its predecessor's. Advances in spy plane technology have made that easier, as has an ever-improving spy network that helped locate Mehsud and other terrorists.
These would have been available to any new president. But Obama's counterterrorism campaign also relies on two sharp reversals from his predecessor, both of which were political gambles at home. First, the drawdown in Iraq has allowed the US to move more drone aircraft to Afghanistan, roughly doubling the size of the military and CIA fleet that can patrol the lawless border with Pakistan. Second, the call for cooperation with the Muslim world has seen an increase in information sharing from Pakistan, which provides much of the best intelligence. (Read more President Obama stories.)