President Trump has confirmed that retired Lt. General H.R. McMaster is his new choice to be his National Security Adviser. There have been indications that the Republican establishment has been trying to co-opt Trump and keep him from effecting the sweeping reform that he has promised, and this appointment could indicate that at least for the moment, these forces have gained the upper hand.
A source that has asked to remain anonymous for fear of reprisals has informed me that he was present in August 2014 when McMaster was the featured speaker for the President’s Lecture Series at National Defense University in Washington, D.C. McMaster addressed an assembly of all the students in the colleges of the university, including the National War College, the College of International Security Affairs (CISA), the Dwight D. Eisenhower School for National Security and Resource Strategy (formerly the Industrial College of the Armed Forces), and the others.
No transcript or video is publicly available, but there was a large crowd, and multiple witnesses.
In his address, McMaster said flatly: “The Islamic State is not Islamic.”
You can see McMaster say this beginning at the four-minute mark:
"We are engaged today, as General George C. Marshall's generation was engaged, against enemies who pose a great threat to all civilized peoples. As our World War II generation defeated Nazi Fascism and Japanese imperialism, and as later generations defeated Communist totalitarianism, we will defeat today's enemies, including terrorist organizations like Daesh, who cynically use a perverted interpretation of religion to incite hatred and justify horrific cruelty against innocents." -- Lt. Gen. H. R. McMaster, speech to Virginia Military Institute, Center for Leadership and Excellence, November 21, 2016
Then in this video from May 2016, McMaster says this same thing. At 14:43, McMaster refers to “groups like ISIL, who use this irreligious ideology, this perverted interpretation of religion to justify violence. They depend on ignorance, and the ability to recruit vulnerable segments of populations to foment hatred, and then use that hatred to justify violence against innocents.”
This could be Barack Obama or John Kerry speaking.
Now, this was during the Obama regime, when that was the official policy of the U.S. government, but President Trump has repeatedly criticized his predecessor (and his 2016 election opponent) for not being willing to call the problem of jihad terror by its right name. Since he has become President, he has repeatedly reiterated his determination to eradicate “radical Islamic terrorism.”
If McMaster genuinely holds the view that the Islamic State is not Islamic, then he is a disastrous pick as National Security Adviser, and will continue the willful ignorance of the Obama administration, hamstringing efforts to understand, and counter effectively, the motives and goals of the enemy.
The Obama team didn’t just deny that the Islamic State was Islamic. From 2011 on, it has been official Obama administration policy to deny any connection between Islam and terrorism. This came as a result of an October 19, 2011 letter from Farhana Khera of Muslim Advocates to John Brennan, who was then the Assistant to the President on National Security for Homeland Security and Counter Terrorism, and later, of course, served in the Obama administration as head of the CIA.
The letter was signed not just by Khera, but by the leaders of virtually all the significant Islamic groups in the United States: 57 Muslim, Arab, and South Asian organizations, many with ties to Hamas and the Muslim Brotherhood, including the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), the Islamic Society of North America (ISNA), the Muslim American Society (MAS), the Islamic Circle of North America (ICNA), Islamic Relief USA; and the Muslim Public Affairs Council (MPAC).
The letter denounced what it characterized as U.S. government agencies’ “use of biased, false and highly offensive training materials about Muslims and Islam.” Despite the factual accuracy of the material about which they were complaining, the Muslim groups demanded that the task force “purge all federal government training materials of biased materials”; “implement a mandatory re-training program for FBI agents, U.S. Army officers, and all federal, state and local law enforcement who have been subjected to biased training”; and more—to ensure that all that law enforcement officials would learn about Islam and jihad would be what the signatories wanted them to learn.
Numerous books and presentations that gave a perfectly accurate view of Islam and jihad were removed from coounterterror training. Today, even with Trump as President, this entrenched policy of the U.S. government remains, and ensures that all too many jihadists simply cannot be identified as risks, since the officials are bound as a matter of policy to ignore what in saner times would be taken as warning signs.
President Trump must reverse this. He has spoken often about the threat from “radical Islamic terrorism”; he must follow through and remove the prohibitions on allowing agents to study and understand the motivating ideology behind the jihad threat.
If McMaster was stating his conviction and not just the party line, this would represent a step backward in this effort, not the step forward that is so urgently needed. It would also represent a victory for the compromised McCain/Graham Republican establishment, which subscribes no less than Obama did to the “Islam is a religion of peace” line, and is trying to neutralize Trump and keep the swamp from being drained.