In forceful comments Tuesday that repudiated calls to use the term “radical Islam” while underscoring his administration’s efforts to defeat terrorism, President Barack Obama blasted such language as dangerous and reactionary and slammed Donald Trump's proposed ban on Muslims.
“There’s no magic to the phrase radical Islam. It’s a political talking point,” Obama said. “The reason I am careful has nothing to do with political correctness and everything to do with defeating extremism.”
The president also directly singled out Trump, who on Monday doubled down on his proposed ban of Muslim immigration and expanded his proposal to "suspend immigration from areas of the world where there is a proven history of terrorism against the United States, Europe or allies."
"Where does this stop?" Obama asked on Tuesday in an emotional appeal. "Are we going to start treating all Muslim Americans differently? Place them under special surveillance? Discriminate against them because of their faith? Do Republican officials actually agree with this? Because that’s not the America we want. It doesn’t reflect our ideals."
The president called this type of mindset "dangerous" and such "rhetoric, loose talk and sloppiness" careless comments that undermine greater goals and higher ideals of a democracy.
"If we fall into the trap of painting all Muslims with a broad brush we are doing the terrorists' work for them," Obama said adding " We don’t have religious tests here. If we even abandon those values we will not only make it easier to radicalize people around the world we will betray… the very things that make us great. We can not let that happen. I will not let that happen."
The president's comments echoed those of Speaker of the House Paul Ryan, who rebuked Trump’s proposed Muslim ban.
“I do not think a Muslim ban is in our country’s interests. I do not think it is reflective of our principles, not just as our party but as our country. I think the smarter way to go in all respects is to have a security test not a religious test,” Ryan said.
Ryan also reiterated that there was an important distinction for Americans to keep in mind.
“This is a war with radical Islam it’s not a war with Islam. Muslims are our partners, the vast, vast majority of Muslims in this country and around the world are moderate, they’re peaceful, they’re tolerant.,” he said. “And so they are among our best allies, among our best resources in this fight against radical Islamic terrorism.”
However, later in the day, Ryan said he disagreed with the president on the use of the term "radical Islamic terrorism" and added that it is important to "call this threat for what it is if we are going to fully confront it".
Trump, in an emailed response to questions posed by the Associated Press on Tuesday said the president "claims to know our enemy, and yet he continues to prioritize our enemy over our allies, and for that matter, the American people."
Obama’s remarks followed a previously scheduled meeting with his National Security Council to discuss the efforts to defeat ISIS. The briefing included an update on the deadly Orlando shooting at a gay nightclub over the weekend that left 49 dead and 53 injured.
The president will travel to Orlando on Thursday to pay respects to the victims of the rampage. The shooter swore allegiance to ISIS leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi in a 911 call placed just before he opened fire in the nightclub.
Mateen also expressed admiration for the Boston Marathon bombers and the Palestinian-American who carried out a suicide attack in Syria on behalf of the Al-Nusra front. Al Nusra and ISIS are rivals, further complicating efforts to discern Mateen’s motives, FBI Director James Comey said Monday.
However, the rise of lone gunmen who claim admiration for and allegiance to terrorist groups overseas and carry out mass attacks on American soil has added an additional level of complexity to the administration’s fight against ISIS and other terrorist groups.
Such lone actors or small cells of terrorists are hard to detect, Obama acknowledged on Tuesday.
However, radicalization is further aided by incendiary language and actions against Muslims, Obama said.
“ISIS wants to claim they are the true leaders of over a billion Muslims across the world who reject their crazy notions… That’s their propaganda, that’s how they recruit,” the president said. “If we fall into the trap of painting all Muslims with a broad brush we are doing the terrorists’ work for them.”
The Obama administration has reiterated that it has made progress in that fight and the nation, as a result, is safer. Indeed, according to the State Department’s yearly report on global terrorism, there has been a decrease in deadly terror attacks.
The U.S. is sending 217 more troops, including additional special operations forces, to Iraq as part of a growing train-and-advise effort to help the struggling government fight ISIS. The U.S. is sending up to 250 additional special operations troops to train and assist local forces fighting ISIS in Syria.
Despite this trend, Obama and other officials also acknowledge that there are more terrorists globally and cite the growth of ISIS in Syria and Iraq and other nations as a troubling pattern.
The administration has also faced strident criticism on its strategy to defeat ISIS—an approach that is largely dependent on airstrikes and training of local fighters.
Such approaches are shortsighted, Sen. John McCain, R-Arizona, has said repeatedly.