Asked by a Gold Star mother Wednesday evening why he didn’t use the term “radical Islamic terrorism,” the president said he didn’t want to validate the viewpoints of extremists.
“If you had an organization that was going around killing and blowing people up and said, ‘We’re on the vanguard of Christianity’… as a Christian, I’m not going to let them claim my religion and say you’re killing for Christ… I would say that’s ridiculous,” Obama said. “That’s not what my religion stands for. Call these folks what they are, which is killers and terrorists.”
He also had some choice words for the Republican presidential nominee and those who think like him.
There are “dangers where we get loose in this language, particularly when a president or people aspiring to become president get loose with this language. You can see in some of the language that we use—in talking about Muslim Americans here and the notion that somehow we’d start having religious tests,” Obama said.
The president also took the opportunity to defend some of the most controversial national security decisions he has made over nearly eight years in the White House.
In a Q&A with military service members and Gold Star families at Fort Lee, Virginia, broadcast by CNN, Obama was challenged about the Syrian civil war, which has cost nearly half a million lives and precipitated a refugee crisis.
The president said his focus was to be “judicious” in the use of America’s military might and to prevent the United States from being drawn into a conflict where Russia and Iran might escalate.
“There is not a scenario in which, absent us deploying large numbers of troops, we can stop a civil war in which both sides are deeply dug in,” he said.
Obama also addressed the issue of women in combat—adding that he would be proud if his daughters decided they wanted to sign up for military service.
As the president who is overseeing the military’s ongoing transition to allow women to serve in all combat positions, he was questioned by a female Marine over a study that showed mixed-gender units performed less efficiently than male-only units. The Marine was concerned about what gender integration would mean for her safety and that of her husband, who is also a Marine.
“I agree with you that we can’t just out of some ideological notion make it more dangerous for your husband. But I don’t want a military, an institution that starts with the premise that women can’t do something,” Obama said.
He ended with what seemed another oblique rejoinder to Trump, who has run a campaign of pessimism about the current state of the military.
“When I hear anybody say that America is somehow weaker now than it used to be, blah blah, it’s nonsense. This is the greatest military on earth. Nobody even comes close. Our personnel are better, better trained and more focused and exhibit excellence every day,” Obama said. “We need to take great pride, but we also need to cherish it, not be careless with it. My hope is that my successor, and any one of my successors in the future, always understands this is something you don’t take lightly.”