Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump talks with press on Sept. 5, 2016, aboard his campaign plane, while flying over Ohio, as Vice presidential candidate Gov. Mike Pence looks on.
Photo by Evan Vucci/AP

Trump ignores some good advice on counter-terrorism

George W. Bush and Barack Obama disagreed on many issues, but both understood that combating terrorism by shouting “radical Islam” at every available opportunity was counter-productive. This, for deeply foolish reasons, has driven many Republicans increasingly batty.

For much of the right, the phrase “radical Islamic terrorism” has taken on magical qualities: to keep Americans safe, the argument goes, one must embrace the phrase and use it constantly. As conservatives have been reminded many times, this plays directly into the strategy ISIS and al Qaeda prefer.

Donald Trump doesn’t care. As a Republican candidate, Trump went so far as to argue, in all seriousness, that President Obama “should resign in disgrace” unless his rhetoric matches exactly with what the right wants to hear. As a Republican president, Trump and his aides have already used “radical Islamic terrorism” repeatedly.

In an interesting twist, however, the amateur president is getting some good advice on the matter from his new National Security Advisor. Politico reported this morning:
President Donald Trump’s new national security adviser, Lt. Gen. H.R. McMaster, advised him in a closed-door meeting last week to stop using a phrase that was a frequent refrain during the campaign: “radical Islamic terrorism.”

But the phrase will be in the president’s speech to a joint session of Congress on Tuesday night, according to a senior White House aide – even though McMaster reviewed drafts and his staff pressed the president’s chief speechwriter and senior policy adviser, Stephen Miller, not to use it.
This isn’t surprising, but it’s nevertheless disheartening. After Michael Flynn was forced to resign, Trump brought in McMaster, a decorated and respected career officer, to advise him on matters of national security. The president, however, apparently remains more committed to dumb rhetoric than his NSA’s expert guidance.

Note, this isn’t the first time McMaster has brought up the issue since joining Trump’s White House team. In a story that was first broken on “The Rachel Maddow Show,” we learned that McMaster told the staff of the National Security Council – during his first meeting in his new post – he has no use for Trump’s framing. As the New York Times reported, McCaster told his team “that the label ‘radical Islamic terrorism’ was not helpful because terrorists are ‘un-Islamic.’”

The question isn’t who’s right, because we already know McMaster’s approach is the sensible one. Rather, the question is whether Trump will prioritize good advice on national security from his hand-picked expert or partisan nonsense.