Fighting Al Qaeda: Has Al Qaeda gained ground under Obama's watch?

Two Al Qaeda-linked fighters patrol the streets of Gao, northern Mali, on July 16, 2012.</p>

Two Al Qaeda-linked fighters patrol the streets of Gao, northern Mali, on July 16, 2012.

A popular rule in any debate drinking game will be to drink whenever Obama mentions the killing of Osama bin Laden. Obama, after all, got bin Laden (did you hear?), who had eluded the world's most powerful military for more than a decade. It's difficult to look soft on terrorism when you've done that.

But the truth is while Obama has been tough, in some cases dramatically expanding his predecessor's hardline tactics — the use of drones, for instance — he has not exactly been successful.

While under Obama's watch some terrorist leaders have been killed, Al Qaeda's ideology remains strong in many parts of the world. Al Qaeda, during Obama's tenure, has gained influence in Yemen, Somalia, Mali, Nigeria, Libya, Algeria, Kenya and elsewhere. And in Pakistan, where drones have killed hundreds of suspected militants, average Pakistanis — fed up with the strikes — have begun to turn against the United States and toward the militants

Critics say Obama's use of drones to fight terrorism is only creating more enemies. Others say the program has done little to make the United States safer. 

Romney could score some points with these arguments. But his strategy would unlikely be much different. You might think that short of ground invasion, it would be hard for Romney to be any “tougher” on terrorism than Obama. But Romney has indicated he would expand the drone program even further. The only 2012 presidential candidates who don't support drone attacks are barred from participating in the debates.