"If we take the proper steps, we can save lives, but we have to act fast," President Obama said on Tuesday. "We can't dawdle on this one. We have to move with force and make sure that we are catching this as best we can given that this has broken out in ways we have not seen before."
The president was in Atlanta announcing an expanded military effort to aid African countries fighting Ebola, but he also might have been talking about the necessity of stopping the oil-fueled terrorism and hate of ISIL.
Obama did not set about to be a foreign policy president. He was going to be the health care president, the guy who focused on jobs and equality and the environment and education.
But with two years left in his term, the president can't do much of anything about any of those things, other than issue executive orders and — if Democrats hold onto the Senate — appoint people. If Democrats lose the Senate, so much for the appointments piece. For better or worse, like it or not, the domestic agenda — whether right or left — is caught in gridlock. For better or worse, like it or not, Obama must face the challenges of a world in crisis.
Amidst the horror being wreaked by these extremists is an opportunity for this president to rise above the pettiness of American politics and act as the commander in chief. The extremists have created a coalition that would not otherwise exist, and, equally improbably, they have silenced the partisan attacks from Speaker Boehner and his crowd.
Now the president must take the next step — away from politics.
Leave it to the Senate Democrats to fight their fights in the battleground states where the president's presence doesn't help anyway. Enough with the endless fundraising for negative ads and back and forth blame games. Enlist Bill Clinton to do the domestic rallies. Send Joe Biden to collect checks from the big donors. The best thing Obama can do is to confront the world, speaking for a united country, facing danger with determination and boldness.
This is not our president's natural inclination.
His critics, and even his friends, have complained that "not doing something stupid" is not a strategy or a worldview. Even now, with the country, and especially his opponents, ready to give him more authority than he is asking for, the concern — and it is a real one — is that the president is asking for too little and not too much, that it may take special forces advisers to stop ISIL and not just air strikes, that no boots on the ground might more accurately mean no boots on the ground in frontline combat.
We have had too many presidents who have found it too easy to send young men and women into harm's way. Not making mistakes is not a strategy, but it remains a good idea.
The president should not be reckless, but neither should he be timid.
I usually start to laugh when politicians start invoking the American people, as if we are a monolith who speaks in one voice directly into the ear that is not hooked up to a television camera. But this is one of those occasions where it seems almost true that the country wants to be united, wants to be strong, wants to fight back and, most importantly, wants a president we can trust and rely on in the battle.
Easy? Of course not. But the president is not the newbie he was six years ago.
The best thing he can do for his party, his country and his legacy, let alone the people who are in harm's way, is to focus not only on the belated battle against Ebola, but also on the belated and necessary world effort to deal with the threat of extremism that knows no limits.
He might just be the national security president yet. And by the way, the Democrats might even hold the Senate.
Susan Estrich is a best-selling author whose writings have appeared in newspapers such as The New York Times, Los Angeles Times, and Washington Post. Read more reports from Susan Estrich — Click Here Now.