In the raw aftermath of a successful attack, it will be very hard for an American president to shift the debate in a more productive and honest direction. Imagine if, after a fatal attack, President Obama responded by proposing greater outreach to Muslim communities domestically and around the world, in an effort to undercut radicalization. That is precisely what we and other nations should be doing, but it would undoubtedly be decried as a weak, starry-eyed reaction by our commander in chief, especially after an attack that revealed deficiencies in our counterterrorism system.

But right now, after a near-miss, there is a better opportunity to adjust than in an emotionally charged period when the nation is mourning. Though a good dose of political courage would still be required, it would constitute a major improvement to our debate if leaders could come together now and agree on a few key points about our efforts to battle terrorism…