WASHINGTON (JTA) — President Barack Obama lacerated Donald Trump for his calls to single out Muslims and Islam for special scrutiny.
Obama, speaking after a briefing with top administration officials on U.S. actions against the Islamic State terrorist group, scoffed at accusations this week from the presumptive Republican nominee that using the term “radical Islam” was a sign of strength.
“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.
“Not once has an advisor of mine said, man, if we really use that phrase, we’re going to turn this whole thing around,” Obama said in a 25-minute, sarcasm-laced jeremiad against Trump in which he never mentioned the nominee by name. “Not once. So 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.”
Trump spoke in multiple forums on Monday after a gunman who pledged allegiance to Islamic State carried out the worst shooting massacre in U.S. history at a gay nightclub in Orlando early Sunday morning.
Obama’s attack on Trump was his most direct engagement thus far with the 2016 campaign. The president will soon start campaigning for the presumptive Democratic nominee, his former secretary of state, Hillary Clinton.
This level of involvement by second-term presidents in a campaign is unprecedented, and Obama’s attack reflected the stakes he sees in keeping Trump out of the White House.
Obama said Trump’s prescriptions would make enemies of moderate Muslims and put American freedoms at risk.
“If we fall into the trap of painting all Muslims with a broad brush and imply that we are at war with an entire religion, then we’re doing the terrorists’ work for them,” the president said, explaining why he does not use the term “radical Islam.”
He singled out Trump’s claims that Muslims as a group resisted reporting terrorists in their midst and his call to stop the entry of Muslims in the United States for a period.
“We now have proposals from the presumptive Republican nominee for president of the United States to bar all Muslims from immigrating to America,” Obama said. “We hear language that singles out immigrants and suggests that entire religious communities are complicit in violence.”
“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? Because that’s not the America we want.”