President Obama vigorously defended his administration’s counterterrorism policy on Tuesday of avoiding the term "radical Islam" when identifying terrorists, and denied political correctness was behind the ban.
"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 said following a White House National Security Council meeting on the Islamic State terror group.
Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump on Monday criticized the president for failing to prevent the Orlando massacre that killed 49 people and wounded 53 others. He blamed politically correct policies. "The current politically correct response cripples our ability to talk and to think and act clearly," he said.
Security analysts also told the Washington Free Beacon the administration’s refusal to accurately identify or characterize radical Islam in its policies was to blame for the deaths of Americans.
The president dismissed debate over the terminology as partisan rhetoric and sharply criticized Trump for advocating a ban on Muslim immigration in response to the Orlando terror attack.
Noting the terrorists behind the Orlando, San Bernardino, and Fort Hood attacks were U.S. citizens, Obama asked rhetorically if all Muslim-Americans should be subjected to "special surveillance" and discriminated against for being Muslim.
Trump fired back in a statement late Tuesday saying Obama "claims to know our enemy, and yet he continues to prioritize our enemy over our allies, and for that matter, the American people."
The president’s remarks came two days after Omar Mateen, a Muslim who professed loyalty to the Islamic State, conducted the worst mass terror attack in 15 years. The global Islamic terror organization continues to spread from areas of the Middle East and South Asia into Europe, the United States, and other parts of the world.
"What exactly would using this label accomplish?" Obama asked. "What exactly would it change? Would it make ISIL [an alternative name for the Islamic State, along with ISIS] less committed to try to kill Americans? Would it bring in more allies? 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," he said.
Critics were quick to respond that the president’s failure to properly identify the enemy as a global Islamic jihadist movement is hampering efforts to defeat the threat.
Additionally, the lexical limitation that has been imposed on federal law enforcement and domestic security agencies has prevented use of effective ideological weapons, in addition to traditional military, intelligence, and law enforcement tools.
For example, the State Department’s recently formed Center for Global Engagement, set up to counter ISIS’s strategic information warfare, does not directly address the Islamic nature of terrorism in its outreach programs.
Instead, ideological efforts to counter ISIS recruitment and propaganda programs are being farmed out to Muslim nations in the Middle East, including some that are promoting their own forms of Islamic extremism.
J. Michael Waller, an information warfare expert at Wikistrat, said Obama in recent remarks carefully identified the gender and sexual orientation of the Orlando victims but refused to say Mateen declared his loyalty to the Islamic State and shouted an Islamic slogan during the shooting.
"This political correctness in the national leadership has had a chilling effect on our intelligence and counterterrorism professionals over the years, to the point that there is little understanding of the ideological motivations of the enemy—and even less understanding of how to combat the threat most effectively," Waller said.
Rep. Mike Pompeo (R., Kan.) a member of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, said the president will not label radical Islamic terrorism as the enemy to avoid a war between the ideology and the West.
"Yet this is today’s reality—Islamists using terror to kill and to destroy the West," Pompeo told the Free Beacon. "The war the president fears is upon us—the 49 people murdered in Orlando this week attests to this fact."
Pompeo urged the president to take a stand against Islam’s radical ideas that seek an end to Western civilization and use "the full might of America" to eradicate them.
"To spend time criticizing Republicans for their ‘yapping’ and ‘loose talk’ misses the mark and does nothing to save American lives," he said.
Obama explained in his remarks that what he calls "extremist groups"—without referring to them as Islamic—have perverted Islam to justify terror attacks and activities.
"There has not been a moment in my 7 1/2 years as president where we have not been able to pursue a strategy because we didn't use the label ‘radical Islam,’’’ Obama said, adding that none of his advisers have told him that use of the term would "turn this whole thing around."
Michael Rubin, an American Enterprise Institute expert, said it is ironic Obama justifies intellectual somersaults to prevent calling radical Islamists what they are.
"But in Lebanon, Syria, Iraq, Iran, and Afghanistan ordinary Muslims have no trouble calling out radical Islamists for what they are," he said.
"To suggest, as the White House does repeatedly, that calling jihadis by their name bestows religious legitimacy, or that recognizing radical Islamists as Muslims somehow bestows religious legitimacy on them is as arrogant as it is wrong," Rubin said. "No Muslim looks to the United States to define religion or bestow religious legitimacy."
Avoiding proper identification leads to failed strategies, Rubin added. "It's as if a doctor was so dead set upon refusing to recognize poison ivy as the cause of a rash so as not to upset horticulturalists that instead he simply called it a red blotch that had to do with leaves and so therefore prescribed cosmetics rather than cortisone to treat it."
The Obama administration’s policy has focused on killing terror leaders who have quickly been replaced. The policy also helped produce the ultra-violent al Qaeda offshoot Islamic State, which split from the core group over its lack of aggressiveness, analysts say.
The Islamic State, despite years of U.S. military operations against it, has expanded rapidly from its centers in Syria and Iraq into Egypt, Libya, Pakistan, Afghanistan, and elsewhere.
Retired Army Lt. Col. Joseph Myers, a former Defense Intelligence Agency analyst and counterterrorism expert, said the president in comments on the Orlando attack focused on U.S. overseas military operations and domestic gun control.
"We can kill terrorists every day but if we do not engage and confront the ideas that are generating new terrorists tomorrow we will not win this war," Myers said.
More ideological warfare is needed, Myers continued.
"If our national security policy and strategy prevents us from engaging the enemy on the ideological battlefield and separates Islamic doctrine as a causal factor in Islamic jihad-based terrorism, then we are disarming ourselves and conceding that key terrain to the enemy," he said.
The president also sought to dispute the idea that the United States does not know who it is fighting, noting thousands of terrorists have been removed from the battlefield.
He also challenged critics who say the White House and other U.S. entities were not taking the fight against ISIS seriously. Al Qaeda was dismantled in Pakistan’s Federally Administered Tribal Area through U.S. military special operations forces. "They know full well who the enemy is," he said.
Similarly, Obama insisted intelligence and law enforcement personnel also understand the threat. "They know who the nature of the enemy is," he said. "So, there is no magic to the phrase ‘radical Islam.’ It is a political talking point. It is not a strategy."
Critics counter the United States has been forced to wage an endless conflict because of administration policies that have focused mainly on killing terrorists without targeting the ideology behind the threat.
Obama also asserted that using the term radical Islam helps terrorists portray counterterror efforts as a "war between Islam and America, or between Islam and the West."
The president also said in the past the government acted "out of fear" and has mistreated citizens as part of a "shameful part of our history."
"This is a country founded on basic freedoms, including freedom of religion," he said. "We don't have religious tests here. Our founders, our Constitution, our Bill of Rights, are clear about that."