- The Washington Times - Sunday, September 17, 2017

As President Trump’s staunchest backers wonder why he has suddenly dropped “Islamic” from two important war speeches, the mystery in the latter instance can be traced to the Pentagon, says an administration source.

On the anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, Mr. Trump delivered a passionate speech on the grounds of the Pentagon where the hijacked American Flight 77 crashed into the west block.

The attacks there, at the World Trade Center and on a field in Pennsylvania, which killed almost 3,000 people, were carried out by al Qaeda, a radical Salafi Sunni terrorist group then based in Afghanistan.

But Mr. Trump, who boasted during the presidential campaign that he would label the enemy as Islamic, never did so during the anniversary speech. Instead, he used descriptions such as terrorists, enemies and savage killers.

Defense Secretary James Mattis called extremists “maniacs disguised in false religious garb.”

Critics of Islam who believe al Qaeda and the ultraviolent Islamic State are entwined in Muslim doctrine, clergymen and infrastructure were quick to express disappointment.

Robert Spencer, director of the Jihad Watch website, assessed the speech this way: “That’s great, Mr. President, but you will find it impossible to defeat these horrible, horrible enemies without identifying and working to devise ways to confront their motivating ideology. That’s what you seemed to be promising to do when you rebuked Obama and Hillary Clinton for not daring to say ‘radical Islamic terrorism.’ Now you have joined them. You were right the first time.”

Breitbart News, run by former Trump White House aide Steve Bannon, quickly posted a report that all senior officials’ remarks that day avoided the word “Islam.”

Said the article, “Instead of naming the enemy, Trump seemingly went out of his way to use other descriptors in his speech, including ‘terrorists who attacked us,’ ‘barbaric forces of evil and destruction,’ ‘horrible, horrible enemies,’ ‘enemies of all civilized people’ and ‘enemies like we’ve never seen before.’”

The Washington Times reached out to an administration official and received this explanation.

“Here’s what happened,” the official said. “With that speech, the Pentagon’s guidance was very clear. This was a commemoration of the dead and the day. It’s the first time we’ve ever had survivors, victims’ families and first responders all at the same event, and we don’t want anything political, any war talk. It should be solely a commemorative event.

“We initially proposed putting some language about Afghanistan in there. We’re fighting there. We have to kill these guys. Stuff like that that advances the overall agenda.

“The Pentagon was really opposed to that, in a friendly way. ‘Look, we want to keep the spirit of this event to purely commemorate. Would you please work with us and not do this? There are other times and places where you can do it.’ And we said, ‘OK.’”

Hard-liners suspect a different motive, after Mr. Trump delivered his first major war speech Aug. 21 to the nation on Afghanistan policy. He never mentioned Islam there either.

They believe Mr. Trump’s national security adviser, H.R. McMaster, has flipped the president from his view as a candidate to the general’s view, which is that Islam has nothing to do with the ruthless Islamic State terrorist group. His quoted phrase is, “The Islamic State is not Islam.”

The administration official scoffed at this analysis.

“Does anyone really think the president has changed his mind on that score?” the official told The Times.

Army Col. Rob Manning, director of Pentagon press operations, explained the department’s theme for the annual solemn observance.

“As the president’s remarks conveyed, obviously the purpose of the Sept. 11 observance is to honor and recognize the victims and their families,” Col. Manning said. “It is a solemn and respective tribute to the heroes of that day.

“We provided the purpose of that event in the planning process to the speechwriters there at the White House and the president, and those who prepared his remarks understood the appropriateness of the remarks and how impactful they are,” Col. Manning said. “We gave them the context for the event, and they obviously prepared the remarks. We didn’t directly tell them or say, ‘Hey, don’t say this and don’t say that.’ We just gave them the parameters for how the event is perceived and the intent of the event, and they prepared his remarks accordingly, and they were very appropriate and very well received as well.”

On Friday, perhaps Mr. Trump heard the critics, or it was the change of venue and audience, or world events that influenced his choice of words.

Mr. Trump spoke at a hangar at Joint Base Andrews on the Air Force’s 70th anniversary. The prepared remarks did not contain the word “Islam.”

But with a backdrop of Air Force enlisted personnel, Mr. Trump alluded to the breaking news out of Britain: another terrorist attack, this time on the London subway, for which the Islamic State took credit.

“Radical Islamic terrorism, it will be eradicated. Believe me,” Mr. Trump said to applause.

• Rowan Scarborough can be reached at rscarborough@washingtontimes.com.

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