Opinion writer

The president’s bizarre insistence Monday that nothing much about his approach to fighting Islamic terrorism (though he doesn’t call it that, of course) needs to be changed should rattle all Americans. Alert Democrats might see their political lives pass before their eyes. The president, you see, hopes they will join him in defending a failed policy, hoping against hope that another terror attack does not occur before he — and they — leave office.

Democrats might listen to the Senate Intelligence Committee’s ranking Democrat, Dianne Feinstein (Calif.), as the Hill reports:

“I have never been more concerned,” Feinstein said during an appearance on MSNBC’s “Andrea Mitchell Reports,” calling for additional U.S. troops on the ground to combat the militants.

“I read the intelligence faithfully. ISIL is not contained, ISIL is expanding,” said Feinstein, a member of the Senate Intelligence Committee, using an alternate acronym for ISIS.  “They just put out a video saying it is their intent to attack this country,” she added, referring to ISIS’s warning it would target the U.S. and other countries carrying out airstrikes in Syria.

Obama maintained during remarks at the G-20 summit earlier Monday in Turkey that the U.S. remained committed to defeating ISIS, but said it would be a “mistake” to use troops on the ground. The president’s vow that ISIS had been geographically “contained” was broadcast hours before last Friday’s terrorist attack in Paris that left 129 people dead and hundreds more injured.

Obama insisted Monday “there has been progress” against ISIS, while Feinstein cast doubt that airstrikes alone “can really make a difference” in the campaign to defeat the group in Iraq and Syria.

Are Democrats going to circle the wagons once again for the White House, just as they did on the deeply flawed Iran deal? If so, they are gambling with the lives of Americans and with their own political future. Essentially, they are betting that the Islamic State won’t follow up on Paris, even though the president projects passivity and weakness — even defiance to suggestions that his approach has not made us safer.

While the president may be so cut off from reality that he does not appreciate the enormity of his national security failure or the impression of weakness and unseriousness he is projecting, Democratic elected officials and candidates have no excuse. Presumably they can read open-source intelligence and comprehend that the president’s means (bombing raids, backing elections in Syria — eventually) are not calibrated to end the threat from jihadists who have just attacked a major European capital.

It is for this reason — the president’s apparent inability to rouse himself — that a bipartisan panel to assess the situation and make some policy recommendations is worth considering.

If, however, Democrats continue to cower, playing roulette with the country’s security and their own future, Republicans should not follow. Instead, they must be proactive. As Obama’s former ambassador to Turkey and to Iraq James Jeffrey advises:

When will the United States realize that it urgently needs to use real military force to defeat the Islamic State threat?

After almost 18 months of the Obama administration’s half-measures, it’s obvious that defeat of the Islamic State is not going to happen absent a first-class, mobile ground force being launched to mate with overwhelming air power. That ground force does not have to be large — the main U.S. assault force in the largest battle of the second Iraq war, Fallujah in 2004, counted only seven to eight battalions, with reinforcement and support, for a total of 7,000 to 8,000 troops. Nor does it have to be all American. French and other experienced Western troops could complement U.S. forces, as could effective Iraqi and Syrian formations. But without U.S. ground forces, none of this will take place. The Islamic State will hold together its “state,” and its counterattacks — as well as Iranian-Russian exploitation of the Islamic State for their own aggression — will destabilize much of Eurasia and expose the United States again to mass terrorist attacks.

Republicans in Congress and on the campaign trail should embrace that clear-eyed and robust analysis. Congress is entitled to vote on a declaration of war against the Islamic State and take other action, including reimposition  of sanctions against Iran (which is subsidizing Syria), increasing the defense budget, restoring the NSA to full capacity and supporting France’s invoking Article 5 of NATO’s founding treaty.

And Hillary Clinton? She once again reveals her lack of political courage and foreign policy insight, refusing to venture too far from the president for fear of alienating the left-wing base. One wonders if she will ever exercise independent judgment and do something without a laborious process of political calculation. If we are looking for braver, bolder leadership than Obama’s, we will have to look elsewhere. Clinton is little better and hardly different than Obama when it comes to recognizing the magnitude of the threat and our failure to address it.