The New York Times reports: “American intelligence and law enforcement agencies have identified nearly a dozen Americans who have traveled to Syria to fight for the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, the militant group that the Obama administration says poses the greatest threat to the United States since Al Qaeda before the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.” Really? The president didn’t say IS was the “greatest threat” to the United States at his press conference. He didn’t even say it was a direct threat, of any type, to the United States. Previously he famously called IS the “J.V.” team.

President Obama gestures at a news conference at the White House Thursday. (Evan Vucci/Associated Press)

It’s nice of the New York Times to re-interpret the president, and I do like its version better, but we’ve seen time and time again that Obama aides will describe IS as a serious threat, but the president doesn’t. If he acknowledged the severity of the threat, he’d certainly need a strategy for taking on IS and would not be ruling out any options for addressing it. For now we don’t even get “all options are on the table.” You sense no option is.

Nor has the president ever let on that “territorial gains by ISIS, and its attempt to govern towns and cities in eastern Syria and western Iraq, have forced it to recruit foreigners not just for the battlefield. The group has tried to lure doctors, oil field workers and engineers to live in, and run, the caliphate it claims to have established, according to the officials. American officials say their concerns about the recruitment and training of Americans are based on intelligence gathered from travel records, family members, intercepted electronic communications, social media postings and surveillance of Americans overseas who have expressed interest in going to Syria.” Hey, that might indicate we shouldn’t be constricting our surveillance programs but rather expanding them. It might suggest that we need to rethink Obama’s criminalization of the war against Islamic terror since mirandizing these American jihadists (if we can find them) and shipping them off for trial in civilian courts isn’t likely to be effective as an intelligence-gathering technique.

Until this president, every commander in chief faced with international threats has laid out the nature of the threat, the goals of our enemies and the ramifications to the United States if we don’t address it. Even Jimmy Carter did this after the Soviets invaded Afghanistan. (He also issued a series of meaningful sanctions.) Early in this administration, the president decided to ban terms like “Islamic jihad”; he is still refusing to level with the American people about how serious the IS threat really is.

This isn’t the only instance in which the president is trying to downplay a threat or make our foes seem less brutal and dangerous than they are. Recall how the president repeated the Iranian propaganda that the supreme leader has issued a fatwa against nuclear weapons. (There is no evidence he has, although Iran media and its spinners have been using this canard for years.) He talks about the “open” Iranian president but not about the regime’s brutality or support for terror.

It is easy to see why the president effectively does PR for our foes. If they really are dangerous and vicious and pose the greatest threat to the homeland since 9/11, then he’s utterly failed in his obligations as commander in chief. What’s more, people would demand he start acting in ways commensurate with serious foes bent on killing Americans. When presidents perceive a threat to U.S. national security and see the need for action, they give speeches, provide data and describe in detail the necessity for action. Not this president. He seems bent on doing nothing and burying his head in the sand. Should an attack come, what can possibly be the president’s excuse for rationalizing inactivity?

Whatever its genesis, the president’s propensity to minimize threats to the United States is among his most destructive and dangerous characteristics. We’d better make sure the next president is clear-eyed about the dangers we face and the necessity of action (and has a strategy to go with it).