WASHINGTON — As President Trump embarks on his astonishingly ambitious first foreign trip, he faces an intriguing test of rhetorical resolve: Will he use the expression “radical Islamic terrorism” when he addresses the Muslim world from Saudi Arabia?
Top aides aren’t saying. “I haven’t seen the latest draft,” one senior official said evasively. “There are pros and cons to saying or not saying,” another said. “He will definitely discuss extremism,” a third said. Radical Islamic extremism, Yahoo News asked? “Extremism,” came the answer. While the remarks were still being finalized Friday, early drafts reportedly omitted the phrase “radical Islamic terrorism.”
Candidate Trump might be surprised to find this much West Wing waffling on an issue he portrayed as absolutely central to the war on terrorism during the 2016 campaign. In rallies, speeches and debates, he made it clear that he believes the United States cannot defeat groups like al-Qaida or ISIS without branding them with that label. And he mocked both then-President Barack Obama and his rival, Hillary Clinton, for shunning the words.
“I am going to keep radical Islamic terrorists the hell out of our country,” he told a cheering crowd at an October rally in Ocala, Fla. Clinton “won’t even use the term,” Trump said. “Our incompetent president won’t use the term ‘radical Islamic terrorism.’
“He won’t use it. He tries to explain it. He spends hours trying to explain why. If you don’t identify your problem, folks, you’re never going to get rid of it. It’s only getting worse,” he declared.
In his inaugural address, Trump promised: “We will reinforce old alliances and form new ones and unite the civilized world against radical Islamic terrorism, which we will eradicate completely from the face of the earth.”
But Trump’s first…