Donald Trump’s new national security adviser appears to have a strikingly different view from many in the administration about the link between terrorists and their religion. In the first full staff meeting since taking his new job, Lt. Gen. H.R. McMaster told National Security Council staff that the phrase “radical Islamic terrorism” wasn’t a helpful label because terrorists are “un-Islamic,” reports the New York Times. McMaster told staff members that the phrase blames “an entire religion” so “he’s not on board,” someone who participated in the meeting told the Guardian.
McMaster’s words are in sharp contrast to the language used by his predecessor, Michael Flynn, and even Trump himself, who frequently criticized President Barack Obama for not using the phrase “radical Islamic terrorism.” During the campaign, Trump also used it as a talking point against Hillary Clinton. “These are radical Islamic terrorists and she won’t even mention the word, and nor will President Obama. He won’t use the term ‘radical Islamic terrorism’,” Trump said during the Oct. 9 debate at Washington University in St. Louis. “Now, to solve a problem, you have to be able to state what the problem is or at least say the name. She won’t say the name and President Obama won’t say the name. But the name is there. It’s radical Islamic terror.”
Analysts quickly pointed out McMaster’s choice of words has a much deeper meaning. “This is very much a repudiation of his new boss’s lexicon and worldview,” William McCants, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, said.
McMaster also appeared to strike a different tone on Russia, telling National Security Council staff “the talk about Moscow being a friend of Washington is over,” reports CNN, citing a source who was present at the meeting.
Although McMaster’s words could signal a coming clash with the White House, it could also be a sign that he is eager to push the National Security Council away from politics. Before Flynn was fired for misleading the vice president and others about conversations he held with the Russian ambassador numerous reports talked of a demoralized Council as veteran staff were troubled by overt partisanship among the new leadership.
Senators could choose to publicly question McMaster about his differences with the president and his team if the Senate Armed Services Committee holds a confirmation hearing. Although the national security adviser post doesn’t require Senate approval, senators must approve of McMaster’s decision to remain a three-star general in his new post.