WASHINGTON — Even by Donald Trump's standards, his comments about the Orlando shooting have been reckless and self-serving. They are also dangerous for the country.
Trump's response to Sunday morning's terrorist attack by Omar Mateen was initially an opportunistic tweet; then a boasting statement on his website: "I said this was going to happen"; followed by a renewed call to temporarily ban Muslim immigration; and capped by a sinister insinuation Monday morning that President Obama should resign after the shooting because "there's something going on."
The presumptive Republican nominee tried to recover from these wild, off-the-cuff comments with a scripted speech Monday afternoon warning, without evidence, that his presumptive Democratic rival, Hillary Clinton, "wants to allow radical Islamic terrorists to pour into our country." Trump professed support for law-abiding Muslim Americans but said that if they didn't report on "bad" people within their midst, "these people have to have consequences, big consequences."
Trump's polarizing rhetoric on this issue may be the best thing the Islamic State has going for it, according to some leading U.S. and foreign counterterrorism experts. The group's self-declared caliphate in Syria and Iraq is imploding. Its Syrian capital of Raqqah is surrounded and besieged; the gap in the Turkish-Syrian border that allowed the free flow of foreign fighters is finally being closed; Sunni tribal sheikhs who until recently had cooperated with the Islamic State are switching sides. The group's narrative is collapsing — with one exception.
The strongest remaining force that propels the Islamic State is the Islamophobia of Trump and his European counterparts, argue senior intelligence strategists for the U.S.-led coalition. Inflammatory, xenophobic statements about Muslims reinforce the jihadists' claims that they are Muslim knights fighting against an intolerant West. Trump unwittingly gives them precisely the role they dream about.
Trump doesn't seem to understand that the real danger for the West is not the isolated acts of terror by disaffected youths, such as Mateen's massacre in Orlando. That's a threat to Americans, but one that can at least be mitigated some with better security and intelligence. The bigger nightmare happens if Muslims, as a whole, conclude that their community is under threat and respond as a group.
Trump seems to think we've already reached that tipping point — that the Muslim community has mobilized against the United States. He rightly said Monday that Muslims need to work with law enforcement to report dangerous people. But he doesn't seem to understand that his many months of Muslim-bashing comments have made that cooperation harder. He has been tossing matches into a pool of gasoline. Good law enforcement and, yes, cooperation from Muslims have helped prevent more attacks like those in San Bernardino and Orlando.
It's breathtaking that a serious presidential candidate would call on a sitting president to resign following a terrorist attack, because "he doesn't get it or he gets it better than anybody understands." What's that supposed to mean, if not a slur against Obama's loyalty?
Trump displays a level of irresponsibility that should worry Americans, not just because his statements are immoral and unconstitutional, but because they put the country at greater risk.
David Ignatius is a columnist for The Washington Post. Email, davidignatiuswashpost.com.
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