"Not once," President Barack Obama said after a counterterrorism meeting Tuesday, "has an advisor of mine said ‘man, if we really used that phrase [radical Islam], we’re going to turn this whole thing around.’"
It may sound like a joke, but Obama’s tone was serious; his frustration with having to respond to Donald Trump's semantic demands that he use the phrase "radical Islam" in the wake of the nation’s deadliest mass shooting was palpable.
"If someone seriously thinks that we don’t know who we're fighting, if there's anyone out there who thinks we're confused about who our enemies are, that would come as a surprise to the thousands of terrorists who we've taken off the battlefield," Obama said, going on to call Trump’s obsession with labels, "yapping."
Trump released a statement Sunday calling for Obama’s resignation because the president "refused to even say the words 'radical Islam'": "For that reason alone, he should step down," Trump declared. Since then, Trump has assailed the Obama administration’s "weak" defense against terrorist groups, stating the president doesn’t "understand" what he is dealing with.
When it comes to actually defeating the Islamic State, "calling a threat by a different name doesn’t make it go away," Obama rebutted. The phrase "radical Islam" is not "magic," he continued, referring to Trump as merely a "politician who tweets":
If the implication is that those of us up here and the thousands of people around the country and around the world who are working to defeat ISIL aren't taking the fight seriously, that would come as a surprise to those who have spent these last seven and a half years dismantling al Qaeda in the FATA, for example -- including the men and women in uniform who put their lives at risk and the Special Forces that I ordered to get bin Laden and are now on the ground in Iraq and in Syria. They know full well who the enemy is. 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.
We've gone through moments in our history before when we acted out of fear — and we came to regret it. We've seen our government mistreat our fellow citizens. And it has been a shameful part of our history.
This is a country founded on basic freedoms, 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 a lot 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; 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.