Obama Smacks Down Donald Trump, Says Using "Radical Islam" Plays into Terrorists' Hands
President Barack Obama delivered a forceful rebuttal to presumptive Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump on Tuesday, declaring that there's "no magic" in using the phrase "radical Islam" following Sunday's attack by an Islamic State-inspired terrorist on a gay nightclub in Orlando.
In his sharpest language to date, Obama said that using the language would play directly into terrorists' hands, and implored his critics to pinpoint how his failure to use the phrase has adversely impacted the United States' fight against terrorism.
"For a while now, the main contribution of some of my friends on the other side of the aisle have made in the fight against ISIL is to criticize this administration and me for not using the phrase 'radical Islam'," Obama said, using an alternative acronym for the Islamic State, also known as ISIS. "That's the key, they tell us. We can't beat ISIL unless we call them radical Islamists."
But using the phrase — which conservative critics argue is essential to properly identifying and defeating the enemy — would change nothing, Obama said, speaking from the Treasury Department following a meeting of his National Security Council.
"What exactly would it change? Would it make ISIL less committed to trying to kill Americans? Would it bring in more allies?" he asked. "Is there a military strategy that is served by this? The answer is none of the above. Calling a threat by a different name does not make it go away. This is a political distraction."
The country's military and intelligence apparatus "know full well who the enemy is," Obama said, adding that they work every day to protect "all Americans — including politicians who tweet," a not-so-subtle jab at Trump.
Moreover, Obama asserted, uttering the words "radical Islam" suggests that the U.S. is waging a struggle against an entire faith — thereby alienating would-be allies.
In a statement to the Associated Press on Tuesday afternoon, Trump hit back at the president, saying he "continues to prioritize our enemy over our allies."
Political fireworks: On Sunday, Trump demanded Obama's resignation after the president didn't mention "radical Islam" in his remarks on the Orlando massacre, in which gunman Omar Mateen killed 49 and injured at least 53. Presumptive Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton, who had avoided the phrase herself, reversed course on Monday and told CNN she was "happy" to use it — a turnabout for which Trump promptly took credit.
Meanwhile, the president minced no words in going after the GOP standard-bearer on Tuesday.
"We now have proposals from the presumptive Republican nominee for president of the United States to bar all Muslims from immigrating to America — language that singles out immigrants and suggests entire religious communities are complicit in violence," he said, one day after Trump doubled down on his proposed Muslim ban in a New Hampshire speech.
"Where does this stop?" Obama asked, noting that Mateen and other Islamist terrorists have been U.S. citizens. "Are we going to start treating all Muslim Americans differently? Are we going to start subjecting them to special surveillance? Are we going to start discriminating them because of their faith?"
Trump's comments pose a test for his party, the president said.
"Do Republican officials actually agree with this? Because that's not the America we want," he said.
House Speaker Paul Ryan, the highest-ranking elected Republican in the country, reiterated his opposition to Trump's Muslim ban on Tuesday, saying the proposal is not "in our country's interests."
2:55 p.m.: This story has been updated.