President Trump on Tuesday night vowed that his administration is working to protect the U.S. from “radical Islamic terrorism” despite reports revealed that his new national security adviser had argued against the use of the term.
Lt. Gen. H.R. McMaster reportedly told his staff last week that using such language is counterproductive because terrorism is “un-Islamic.”
But the viewpoint divides the national security adviser from Trump and many in his inner circle — including top political strategist Stephen Bannon and senior adviser Stephen Miller — and Trump’s speech was closely watched as a barometer for whether McMaster’s viewpoint has resonated with the president.
“We are also taking strong measures to protect our nation from radical Islamic terrorism,” Trump said during his address to a joint session of Congress.
McMaster’s influence on the president has been closely watched. He is widely respected on both sides of the aisle, but unlike Bannon, who was recently given a seat on the National Security Council, McMaster reportedly does not have walk-in privileges in the Oval Office.
The Obama and Bush administrations were careful not to conflate the religion of Islam with acts of terror, in part because they argued that alienating the Muslim community is counterproductive to the fight against terrorists.
Trump and many of his associates have seen the issue through a strictly religious lens. Bannon in particular has argued that an existential clash between Islam and the Western world is forthcoming.
Trump went on to obliquely defend his embattled executive order barring immigration from seven Muslim-majority countries, currently suspended by a federal court. He is expected to issue a revised version this week.
“It is not compassionate, but reckless, to allow uncontrolled entry from places where proper vetting cannot occur,” Trump said. “We cannot allow a beachhead of terrorism to form inside America.”
“That is why my administration has been working on improved vetting procedures, and we will shortly take new steps to keep our nation safe — and to keep out those who would do us harm."