Before Saturday night’s debate, the Democratic presidential candidates had only a day to prepare for terrorism’s new centrality to the 2016 campaign. And it showed. Bernie Sanders rightly noted that both the Iraq War and climate change had contributed to the political breakdown on which ISIS feeds. But when it came to outlining a vision for fighting the Islamic State going forward, none of the candidates ventured much beyond platitudes. Hillary Clinton backhandedly admitted as much when she promised that, “I will be laying out in detail what I think we need to do with our friends and allies in Europe and elsewhere to do a better job of coordinating efforts against the scourge of terrorism.” Given that Clinton announced her presidential bid in April, and months ago delivered policy speeches on a variety of domestic subjects, the fact that she hasn’t provided that detail yet shows how absent terrorism has been from the Democratic campaign.
Both politically and morally, that’s dangerous. The Republican line on ISIS’s attacks in Paris is clear: The United States left Iraq, and the larger Middle East, because Barack Obama doesn’t believe in American power, and now “radical Islam” is taking over the region and coming after Americans. So the U.S. must “lead” again, which means more bombing, a no-fly zone in Syria, tearing up the Iran nuclear deal, a harder line against Russia, and no admission of Syrian Muslim refugees to the country. If the Democrats don’t offer an alternative vision, and instead stick to generalities while waiting for the conversation to turn back to domestic affairs, the trust gap separating the two parties on national security will grow.