By NICK GASS
President Barack Obama ripped into Donald Trump on Tuesday for criticizing him for not using the phrase “radical Islam” and for renewing his proposed Muslim ban, warning about the danger that the presumptive Republican nominee would pose as president.
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.”
Even as partisans argue over terminology, “that kind of yapping has not prevented folks across the government from doing their jobs,” he said.
“We are seeing how dangerous this kind of mind-set and this kind of thinking can be. We are starting to see where this kind of rhetoric and loose talk and sloppiness about who exactly 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.”
The meeting at the Treasury Department, the latest in a series of administration briefings on the campaign against the Islamic State, also known as ISIL, was planned long before the terrorist attack in Orlando, Florida, on Sunday that killed 49 and wounded 53. The killers who perpetrated the attacks in Orlando and at Fort Hood in Texas, as well as one of the two shooters in the San Bernardino massacre, were U.S. citizens, Obama noted.
“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 against them because of their faith? We’ve heard these suggestions during the course of this campaign. Do Republican officials actually agree with this? That’s not the America we want,” Obama said. “It doesn’t reflect our democratic ideals.”
Trump’s rhetoric will make the U.S. less safe, Obama continued, saying it would fuel terrorists’ notion that the West “hates Muslims” and would make Muslims in the country and around the world “feel like no matter what they do, they’re going to be under suspicion and under attack. It makes Muslim Americans feel like their government is betraying them. It betrays the values that America stands for.”
“We have gone through moments in our history before when we acted out of fear and we came to regret it. We have seen our government mistreat our fellow citizens, and it has been a shameful part of our history,” Obama said. “This is a country founded on basic freedom including freedom of religion. We don’t have religious tests here. Our founders, our Constitution, our Bill of Rights, are clear about that. And if we ever abandon those values, we would not only make it easier to radicalize people here and around the world, but we would have betrayed the very things we are trying to protect.”
“The pluralism and the openness, our rule of law, our civil liberties, the very things that make this country great,” Obama said. “The very things that make us exceptional. And then the terrorists would have won, and we cannot let that happen. I will not let that happen.”
At no point in the execution of its strategy against the Islamic State, which claimed credit for the Orlando attack, has the government been hamstrung by the name it has called the enemy, Obama said.
“Not once has an adviser said, ‘Man, if we use that phrase, we are going to turn this whole thing around,’ not once,” he remarked. “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.”
People who have been working on fighting terrorist groups in the U.S. “know full well who the enemy is,” Obama said.
“So do the intelligence and law enforcement officers who spend countless hours disrupting plots and protecting all Americans — including politicians who tweet and appear on cable news shows,” Obama said, in a not-so-veiled reference to Trump. “They knew who the nature of the enemy is. So there 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.”
Obama also called for restrictions on guns to prevent homegrown extremism.
“Here at home, if we really want to help law enforcement protect Americans from homegrown extremists, the kind of tragedy that occurred at San Bernardino and now occurred in Orlando, there is a meaningful way to do that,” Obama said. “We have to make it harder for people who want to kill Americans to get their hands on weapons of war that let them kill dozens of innocents.”
Obama continued, “There are common-sense steps that could reduce gun violence and the lethality of somebody intending to do somebody harm. We should give [the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms] the resources they need to enforce the gun laws that we already have. People with possible ties to terrorism who are not allowed on a plane should not be allowed to buy a gun. Enough talking about being tough on terrorism. Actually, be tough on terrorism and stop making it [as] easy as possible for terrorists to buy assault weapons,” Obama said.
“Reinstate the assault-weapons ban; make it harder for terrorists to use these weapons to kill us,” he said. “Otherwise, despite extraordinary efforts across our government, by local law enforcement, by our intelligence agencies, by our military — despite all the sacrifices that folks make, these kinds of events are going to keep on happening. And the weapons are only going to get more powerful.
The fight against the Islamic State is “firing on all cylinders” overseas, Obama said, while urging more to be done to prevent homegrown extremism with increased restrictions on weapons.
As a result of administration efforts, including 13,000 airstrikes from the United States and its coalition partners, Obama said ISIS is “under more pressure than ever” in both Iraq and Syria, noting the losses of more than 120 of the group’s leaders and commanders.