Many Republicans are running for the hills this week to avoid association with Donald Trump’s renewal of proposals to ban Muslim immigration and, in general, engage in religious and ethnic profiling as a strategy for fighting terrorism. But one Trump assertion that most Republicans share is the contemptuous claim that the president’s reluctance to reference Islam in discussions of terrorism is some sort of craven exercise in political correctness or pandering to the enemy.
In a long-scheduled briefing on anti-terrorism efforts today, Obama went after the criticism with a rhetorical claw hammer:
[T]here is no magic to the phrase of ‘radical Islam.’ It is a political talking point. It is not a strategy. And the reason I am careful about how I describe this threat has nothing to do with political correctness and everything to do with actually defeating extremism … “
Not once has an adviser said, ‘Man, if we use that phrase, we are going to turn this whole thing around,’ not once. So someone seriously thinks that we don’t know who we are fighting? If there is anyone out there who thinks we are confused about who our enemies are — that would come to a surprise of the thousands of terrorists we have taken out on our battlefield.
Having countered Republican contempt with his own, Obama reiterated the actual reasoning behind the care he and his administration have taken about conceding ISIS’s religious legitimacy:
Should the United States “fall into the trap of painting all Muslims with a broad brush” and “imply that we are at war with an entire religion,” Obama said after a meeting with his National Security Council at the Treasury Department, “then we are doing the terrorists’ work for them.”
Moreover, said Obama, identifying terrorism with Islam can lead directly to the kind of broad-brush discrimination that Trump is calling for:
“We are seeing how dangerous this kind of mindset and thinking can be. We are starting to see this kind of rhetoric and loose talk and sloppiness about who we are fighting where this can lead us,” Obama said. “We now have proposals from the presumptive Republican nominee of the United States, the Republican nominee to bar all Muslims from immigrating into America.”
In other words, the GOP-wide frenzy over “naming the enemy” logically leads to the kind of Trump policies that so many Republican elected officials are reluctant to support.
Imprecise readers may absorb this broadside from Obama and wonder if it doesn’t contradict Hillary Clinton, who uttered the phrase "radical Islam" in an interview Monday. But Clinton was quick to say of the name game that "it’s not the point," and went on to blast Trump for his indiscriminate determination to discriminate broadly: "What I won’t do, because I think it is dangerous for our efforts to defeat this threat, is to demonize and demagogue and declare war on an entire religion," she said. "That plays right into ISIS’ hands."
Clinton hit Trump by name, saying, “I think that Donald Trump’s rhetoric is quite dangerous to our country.”
It will be interesting to see which issue media folk focus on in the days just ahead: the superficial division between Obama and Clinton on whether to ever to utter the magic words, or the larger division between Republicans and Trump over whether to follow his Muslim-naming with Muslim-bashing generally and Muslim-banning specifically.