Obama slams Trump’s calls for banning Muslims in the wake of Orlando attack

Published June 15th, 2016 - 09:30 GMT
US President Barack Obama speaks during the United State of Women Summit at the Washington Convention Center in Washington, DC, June 14, 2016. (AFP/Saul Loeb)
US President Barack Obama speaks during the United State of Women Summit at the Washington Convention Center in Washington, DC, June 14, 2016. (AFP/Saul Loeb)

President Barack Obama gave a spirited speech Tuesday while providing an update on the American fight against radical extremists -- taking Republicans to task for standing in the way of the fight.

Obama's remarks, which lasted for about a half-hour, followed a meeting with the National Security Council. Present during the update were U.S. Attorney General Loretta E. Lynch, Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Joseph Dunford and Treasury Secretary Jack Lew.

Obama opened his comments by reiterating that no ties have been found between the Orlando shooting suspect, Omar Mateen, and Daesh.

"The killer took in extremist information and propaganda over the Internet. He appears to have been an angry, disturbed, unstable young man who became radicalized," he said.

Earlier Tuesday, White House spokesman Josh Earnest said Obama will travel to Orlando on Thursday to meet with officials and families of the victims.

Forty-nine people were killed in the Central Florida nightclub during the shooting early Sunday, plus Mateen. On Tuesday, Obama condemned the attack and said efforts to fight terror in the United States is often as difficult as fighting terror overseas.

"These lone actors are very hard to detect and very hard to prevent," he said. "We work to succeed 100 percent of the time. An attacker, as we saw in Orlando, only has to succeed once."

Obama then detailed various ongoing efforts in Iraq and Syria to destroy the Islamic State, saying US and allied forces have made "significant progress" and are "firing on all cylinders." He noted that B-52 bombers have and will continue to make "precision strikes" against militant targets in both nations.

The president named four terror leaders who have been killed in Iraq in recent months -- and warned terror leaders everywhere, "If you target America and our allies, you will not be safe. You will never be safe."

Obama also stated that Daesh has lost half of the territory it used to control and that it's been more than a year since Daesh has launched a successful offensive in either Syria or Iraq.

Toward the end of his remarks, the president took on a more animated demeanor and set his sights on Republican leaders, who he says often stand in the way of progress.

Obama's criticisms of the GOP ranged from the Senate's refusal to give a confirmation hearing to Adam J. Szubin as Treasury undersecretary for terrorism and financial intelligence -- who was nominated for the post more than 400 days ago -- to the failure of Congress to take action on gun control.

Obama then spent several minutes responding to a common and repeated criticism from some Republicans: His lack of use for the term "radical Islam."

Some conservatives say Obama refuses to use the term because either he is trying to be politically correct, or that it signals a sympathetic ideology. On Tuesday, Obama didn't mince words.

"What exactly would using this label accomplish? What exactly would it change? Would it make ISIL (Daesh) less committed to killing Americans?" Obama said. "Would it bring in more allies? Is there a military strategy that would be served by this? The answer is none of the above. Calling a threat by another name does not make it go away. ... This is a political distraction.

"Not once has an adviser of mine said, 'Man, if we really use that phrase were gonna turn this thing around.' Not once.

"Someone seriously thinks 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 we have taken off the battlefield."

Obama said he isn't trying to be politically correct by avoiding the term, but rather he is trying to counter a core recruiting strategy of Daesh: Making impressionable Muslim youths believe there's a war between the United States and the entire Islamic faith.

"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 are doing the terrorists' work for them," Obama said emphatically. "We are now seeing how dangerous this kind of mindset can be."

The president wrapped his speech by shaking his head at remarks made in recent days, and months, by Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump.

"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 of a proposal Trump floated last fall, and reiterated Monday. "You hear language that singles out immigrants and suggests entire religious communities are complicit in violence. Where does this stop?"

On Monday, Trump elaborated on the idea, saying as president he would suspend immigration to the United States from nations that have a history of hostility or terrorist ideologies against Washington "until we understand how to end these threats."

Obama, though, noted that the perpetrators in the Orlando shooting, the San Bernardino plot and the attack at Fort Hood were all U.S. citizens.

"Do Republican officials actually agree with this?" Obama asked incredulously. "Because that's not the America we want.

"It will make us more safe? It will make us less safe."

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