Trump's National Security Adviser Gen. McMaster Reportedly Rejects 'Radical Islamic Terrorism' Term

Breaking with a key ideological position of the Trump administration, McMaster said Muslim terrorists go against their religion, according to The New York Times.

President Donald Trump with Army Lt. Gen. H.R. McMaster, at Trump's Mar-a-Lago estate in Palm Beach, Fla., Feb. 20, 2017.
Susan Walsh, AP

President Donald Trump's new national security adviser, Lt. Gen. H. R. McMaster, reportedly rejected the term "radical Islamic terrorism" this week, breaking with a key ideological position of the administration.

McMaster said at his first staff meeting at the National Security Council on Thursday that Muslims who commit acts of terrorism are "un-Islamic," The New York Times reported, citing sources who attended the session.

"Radical Islamist terrorism," a term McMaster reportedly described as counterproductive during Thursday's meeting, is often used by Trump. Addressing the Conservative Political Action Conference on Friday, Trump vowed to "keep radical Islamic terrorists the hell out of our country." During his inauguration, he promised to "unite the civilized world against radical Islamic terrorism, which we will eradicate completely from the face of the Earth." And during his election campaign, he berated his Democratic rival Hillary Clinton and then-President Barack Obama for not using the term.

McMaster's comments come almost a week after Trump appointed him to replace Gen. Michael Flynn, who echoed Trump's use of the term. It's unclear if he will need Senate confirmation because he is a three-star general taking on a new assignment.

The New York Times said that McMaster's language is closer to the positions of former presidents Barack Obama and George W. Bush, both of whom took care to separate terrorism from the teachings of Islam. 

“This is very much a repudiation of his new boss’s lexicon and worldview,” William McCants, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution and the author of “The ISIS Apocalypse,” told the Times.

“McMaster, like Obama, is someone who was in positions of leadership and thought the United States should not play into the jihadist propaganda that this is a religious war,” Mr. McCants said.

The report cited several officials as saying that McMaster has been vocal about his views on dealing with Islamic militancy, including in conversations with Trump.

Peter R. Mansoor, a retired Army colonel who served with McMaster in Iraq during the 2007 surge of U.S. troops, told the Associated Press that McMaster "absolutely does not view Islam as the enemy" and believes that in the war against extremism, "we need to have Muslim nations on our side, on the side of moderation.

"So I think he will present a degree of pushback against the theories being propounded in the White House that this is a clash of civilizations and needs to be treated as such," he said.

Still, it's an open question how McMaster, a decorated combat veteran, will fare in a White House that has set up what some call a parallel power structure led by Stephen Bannon and his strategic initiatives group, whose role and reach hasn't been publicly explained. As Trump's chief strategist, Bannon, the conservative media executive with outspoken views about Islam, has a seat on the National Security Council's principals committee in a restructuring that puts him on equal footing with Cabinet members like Pentagon chief Jim Mattis and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson.

Mansoor said Bannon's inclusion on the principals committee shows his group "has an outsized measure of importance within the White House."

McMaster will immediately encounter Trump's proposed ban on travelers from seven majority-Muslim nations, which has been stymied in court. Both the Pentagon and the State Department are pushing to have Iraq removed from that list of seven, officials say, noting that Iraq is an ally in the fight against the Islamic State group and that Iraqis have long served in support of U.S. forces there. It's an example of the more pragmatic foreign policy push led by Mattis and Tillerson.

With reporting by AP.