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National Security Adviser Reportedly Urged Trump To Soften Terrorism Language


There was one phrase President Trump was careful to say loud and clear last night - radical Islamic terrorism. That's the president's term for groups the U.S. is battling in the Middle East, and he's continued to say it over the objections of his new national security adviser. NPR's David Welna reports.

DAVID WELNA, BYLINE: While laying out his views last night on the nation's security, President Trump repeated a controversial phrase he'd often used on the campaign trail.


PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: We're also taking strong measures to protect our nation from radical Islamic terrorism.

WELNA: Today on Morning Edition, White House adviser Sebastian Gorka staunchly defended Trump's use of the term radical Islamic terrorism.


SEBASTIAN GORKA: Those are the most - the clearest three words of his speech. The enemy is radical Islamic terrorism and that has not changed, and it will not change.

WELNA: That's a big change from Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama, both of whom refused to utter that phrase.

MARTHA CRENSHAW: I think politically it does matter.

WELNA: That's Stanford University counterterrorism scholar Martha Crenshaw. She says the term radical Islamic terrorism can be quite offensive to many of the world's one and a half billion Muslims.

CRENSHAW: It's really very broad, and it does risk stigmatizing an entire religion, an entire community of believers, the vast, vast majority of whom do not believe in jihadism whatsoever.

WELNA: For David Rothkopf CEO and editor of Foreign Policy magazine, Trump's use of the loaded term underscores the sway of his domestic policy advisers, among them, Gorka and Chief Political Strategist Stephen Bannon.

DAVID ROTHKOPF: They view using a term like the one the president used is red meat for their base.

WELNA: The president's new national security adviser Lieutenant General H. R. McMaster had strongly advised against using the term radical Islamic terrorism. That's according to a U.S. official who heard McMasters say as much to the National Security Council last week. Again, Foreign Policy's Rothkopf.

ROTHKOPF: McMaster takes a national security view, an international view, brings it to president, who also has people presenting a domestic view, and the president takes the domestic political view over the informed national security view.

WELNA: What do you think that portends for things to come in this White House?

ROTHKOPF: It can't feel good for McMaster. McMaster has a reputation of speaking truth to power. If this is an isolated incident, then, you know, presumably, he'll get over it. If he spends a few months in this job laying down his best thoughts, and the president rejects them - and he's actually - you know, comes to think of himself as a kind of a beard for the bad guys, then I think he's going to get very frustrated with it.

WELNA: Trump adviser Gorka, for his part, told Morning Edition today the term radical Islamic terrorism will not be revised.


GORKA: Sticking to our guns on this issue is incredibly important. We're not wavering on this one.

WELNA: David Welna, NPR News, Washington. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

David Welna is NPR's national security correspondent.