Donald Trump told a crowd of veterans and evangelical Christians on Saturday night that terrorism is “one of the most grave and dire threats to religious freedom in the world today.” This is a major break from the Obama administration, which refused to link religious freedom and Islamic terrorism.
“It’s a whole different ball game folks,” Trump said of the renewed U.S. effort against the terrorist group. The president also hailed his own decision to select Secretary of Defense James Mattis, likening the former U.S. General to that of famed U.S. World War II hero Gen. George Patton. “We’ve got some Pattons today too, I found em….Mad Dog Mattis,” the president declared.
Trump’s remarks come amid a U.S. backed push on ISIS’s capital of Raqqa, Syria, and the final phases of the Iraqi Security Forces’ push on the city of Mosul. Trump has granted Mattis extraordinary powers in the fight against ISIS, including the ability to set troop levels and adjust the rules of engagement. The decisions mark a sharp departure from the policies of former President Barack Obama, who tightly managed the wars from the White House.
Trump alluded to Obama’s past tenure repeating a similar refrain that “I was left a mess,” but assured the crowd that he was “cleaning it up.” The president also highlighted the threat of ISIS and other radical Islamic extremist groups to Christian minorities in the Middle East.
“One of the greatest threats to religious liberty is terrorism, and specifically radical Islamic terrorism. We cannot allow this terrorism and extremism to spread in our country or find sanctuary on our shores or in our cities,” Trump said.
The entire scope and intensity of the U.S. military’s efforts against ISIS in Syria have changed under Donald Trump. In effect, Mr. Trump has handed the ball to the Pentagon and told them to win. President Obama’s policy of “degrading and destroying” ISIS was heavy on degrading and not much on destroying. Mr. Trump has increased military resources to assist our Kurdish and Arab allies in their fight against ISIS, including sending a small number of combat troops and special forces to Syria and expanding the target list of the coalition air force. That last change has resulted in an increase in civilian casualties, but has been successful in weakening the enemy.
Is this change in rhetoric against terrorism important? I think it’s important that the rest of the world — including the Muslim world — is crystal clear on why we are expending American blood and treasure to destroy ISIS and the caliphate. Obama’s mealy-mouthed justifications for going to war against ISIS never got to the crux of the matter.
Islamic extremism threatens all religions — including different Muslim sects. To deny — or ignore — this basic fact was silly. Obama twisted himself into a pretzel at times trying desperately to not connect ISIS and other terrorist groups to the Muslim faith. The only people who pretended he was right were those Muslims who were already predisposed to tolerate, if not support, radical groups killing westerners.
Mr. Trump has put those countries on notice that the U.S. will no longer gloss over the reality that the rest of the world understands: Islamic extremism threatens our most cherished values and freedoms. For that, they will be destroyed.