Obama blasts Trump over Muslim comments during ISIS speech

U.S. President Barack Obama delivers a statement accompanied by Director of National Intelligence James Clapper (R) and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Joseph Dunford in Washington, U.S., June 14, 2016 © Carlos Barria
President Barack Obama held the first press conference on the military campaign against Islamic State since the terrorist attack the group inspired in Florida. A significant portion was devoted to attacking presumptive Republican nominee Donald Trump.

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Obama spoke to reporters after a meeting with his national security team Tuesday afternoon, noting that the meeting had been planned before Sunday’s Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS/ISIL)-inspired attack on a gay nightclub in Orlando, Florida that left 49 people dead.

The president reiterated that the US-led coalition is making progress against the IS, noting that the terror organization has lost half of its populated territory in Iraq, and assured that it will continue to lose more.

“The campaign at this stage is firing on all cylinders,” Obama said.

However, much of the speech was devoted to taking stabs at the president’s critics. Obama pushed back against those who have called on him to use the phrase "radical Islamic terrorism” to describe America’s struggle with international terrorism.

“For a while now, the main contribution of some of my friends on the other side of the aisle have made in the fight against ISIL is to criticize this administration and me for not using the phrase ‘radical Islam.’ That’s the key, they tell us,” Obama said. “What exactly would using this label accomplish? What exactly would it change? Would it make ISIL less committed to trying 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,” the president said, answering his own question.

The president went on to single out Donald Trump, who on Monday renewed his calls for a ban on immigration from countries where Islamic terrorism is prevalent following the Islamist attack in Florida.

“We now have proposals from the presumptive Republican nominee for president of the United States to bar all Muslims from immigrating into America,” Obama said.

“Language that singles out immigrants and suggests entire religious communities are complicit in violence. Where does this stop?” Obama asked, adding that the perpetrators in recent domestic Islamic terror attacks were US citizens.

The president proceeded to call out Republican politicians who have endorsed Trump, blasting them for their implicit support of Trump’s comments and policy prescriptions.

“Do Republican officials actually agree with this?” Obama asked. “It won’t make us more safe, it will make us less safe, fueling ISIL’s notion that that America hates Muslims.”

Obama ended the presser with remarks about how he sees ideas like Trump’s as antithetical to American principles.

“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 easier to radicalize people here and around the world, but we would betray those things that we are trying to protect,” the president said. “We will not let that happen, I will not let that happen.”

The president’s comments were echoed by presumptive Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton, during a campaign rally in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania on Tuesday. Clinton received an endorsement from Obama last week.

Clinton referred to a speech on terrorism Trump gave following the Orlando attacks as being “shameful and disrespectful” to the victims.

Deriding Trump as a leader of the “Birther” movement that argued Obama was not born in the US, Clinton mocked the GOP nominee’s criticism of the Indiana-born judge of Mexican descent, saying that Trump needed reminding that both Hawaii and Indiana were in the US.

Like Obama, Clinton took the opportunity to rebuke Trump’s calls to characterize the nation’s terror threat as Islamic. Describing Trump’s speech as a collection of “bizarre rants and outright lies,” Clinton said she found a fixation with “radical Islam.”

“I will not demonize and declare war on an entire religion,” she said, calling Trump’s words a “recruiting tool for ISIS.”

The Democratic flag-bearer went on to refer to Trump’s plans to restrict immigration as “un-American, but also dangerous,” arguing that it would make it harder to fight ISIS by alienating Muslims in the US and Muslim countries that are US allies.