On Lieutenant General H.R. McMaster’s first day on the job as National Security Adviser, he told his staff the phrase “Radical Islamic Terrorism” was not useful in describing the threat facing the United States.
McMaster reportedly said “Muslims who commit terrorist acts are perverting their religion,” and are “un-Islamic.”
The remarks are seen as a contrast between McMaster and his predecessor, Lieutenant General Michael Flynn, who made identifying the religious and specifically Islamic component of terrorism a fundamental aspect of his views on the Global War on Terror.
The use of the phrase “Radical Islamic Terrorism” was a key talking point in President Trump’s election campaign, drawing intense criticism from many who saw the comments as unfairly generalizing an entire religion.
Many national security experts also denounce the phrase, citing possible stigmatization of Muslim Americans and Muslim allies in the fight against terrorism around the world.
McMaster’s comments are more in line with the mainstream of the national security community.
President Trump has continued his own use of “radical Islamic terrorism” as recently as the Conservative Political Action Conference last week, which has been cited by many in the media as an example of a schism of sorts amongst his own administration over the phrase, and possibly a fundamental difference in worldview.
It was reported that retired Navy Vice Admiral (SEAL) Robert Harward had multiple reservations about assuming the role of National Security Adviser following the abrupt departure of Flynn. Harward reportedly cited a “shit-sandwich” inside the administration, and did not like the restrictions that would be in place with regard to choosing and maintaining his own staff.
McMaster has a reputation for speaking his mind, largely informed by his personal study and work as a military historian. It’s likely that in choosing McMaster, the Trump administration acquiesced to McMaster’s style and has given him leeway in articulating his own stance and vision for the national security council and its staff.
The seemingly disparate opinions and visions for policy, what some have called “schizophrenic,” could also be a sign of subtle pragmatism within the administration, or an indication of welcoming competing and different views. How these differences in opinion play out as a coherent national security strategy remains to be seen.
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