In a remarkable display of arrogance and tone-deaf rhetoric, President Obama unleashed an angry rant about why he doesn’t use the phrase “radical Islam.”
“What exactly would using this label accomplish?” he asked during a June 14 press briefing. “What exactly would it change?”
And although he called the issue a “political distraction,” his question deserves a serious answer. Frankly, it is alarming that the answer is not obvious to the president and those around him: Calling these terrorists what they are – radical Islamists – would be reassuring to those Americans who have doubts about Obama’s proficiency as commander in chief.
Using the phrase would help build confidence that the president actually understands the problem and therefore has a viable plan to defeat the enemy. After all, he is the one who used the term ” JV team” to describe the Islamic State. He is the one who declared Iraq “sovereign, stable and self-reliant.” He is the one who announced an absurd withdrawal date from Afghanistan. He is the one who took six years to declare the Ft. Hood shooting a terrorist attack and not an incident of “workplace violence.”
So to be clear, and to answer the president’s question, using the phrase “radical Islam” isn’t about trying to make the Islamic State “less committed to trying to kill Americans.” It’s not really about the Islamic State at all, Mr. President – it’s about you.
Obama’s refusal to use the term “radical Islam” rattles Americans and increases doubts about his understanding of the threat that the Islamic State presents. Islam has a problem, and Obama needs to say so. He needs to help the world come together and work this out – and defining the problem out loud is an essential step.
Obama’s partisans like to boast that our Nobel Peace Prize-winning president ended two wars. The fact is, this president has neither won nor ended any wars. At the end of his eight years in office, the United States will be facing more grinding conflicts than existed when he won the presidency.
Donald Trump, for all his faults, has forced Hillary Clinton to cross the threshold and acknowledge the obvious – that “radical Islam” is a dangerous threat to our country. Trump-speak has become an infection in our political discourse, but he should not be used as a straw man for Obama to hide behind. Making it primarily about Trump, as the president did in his tirade – as if Trump is the only one who wants the president to employ clear labels to describe our national security threats – is disingenuous.
This is not about the Republican presidential candidate, or Republicans in general, or even about a military strategy to defeat the Islamic State. It is about the president being honest with the American people and assuring them that he understands the threats against us.
Ed Rogers is a contributor to the Washington Post’s PostPartisan blog, a former White House staffer and chairman of the lobbying and communications firm BGR Group.