The Pentagon said Tuesday that Donald Trump's call for a ban on Muslims entering the U.S. risked sowing friction in the ranks and echoed Islamic State propaganda that the U.S. was at war with Islam.
"There are Muslims serving patriotically in the U.S. military today as there are people of many faiths," Pentagon Press Secretary Peter Cook said during a briefing with reporters.
"Without wading into politics, we are partnering right now with Muslim nations" in the fight against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, or ISIS, Cook said. "We have troops serving who follow the Muslim faith," he said.
"Anything that tries to bolster, if you will, the ISIL narrative that the United States is somehow at war with Islam is contrary to our values and contrary to our national security," he said, using another term for ISIS.
Cook did not name Trump but was responding to questions at a Pentagon news conference on the Republican presidential candidate's press release on Monday calling for the U.S. to ban Muslims from entering the U.S. as a way to combat domestic terrorism.
An estimated 5,800 Muslims currently are serving on active duty and in the reserves, and Trump's statement raised the question of whether any Muslims currently serving in the military overseas should be allowed to come back to the U.S. On Fox TV Tuesday, Trump said that Muslims serving overseas "could come home."
Trump's proposed ban also raised the question of whether thousands of Iraqis and Afghans who served as interpreters for the U.S. military at great risk to themselves and their families should be allowed to come to the U.S. under special State Department visa programs.
A provision in the current 2016 National Defense Authorization Act, now awaiting President Barack Obama's signature, would expand the number of special immigrant visas for Afghan interpreters to 7,000 a year, up from 4,000, to address the backlog of those seeking refuge.
In the aftermath of the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks, and fears of retaliation against Muslims, the Defense Department frequently pointed to Muslims serving honorably on active duty. There were numerous instances of troops closing ranks with Muslims in their units and telling them "we've got your back," Cook said.
"I would just make the larger point that anything that creates tensions and creates the notion that the U.S. is at odds with the Muslim faith and Islam would be counterproductive to our efforts right now" against ISIS, he said.
The White House and the State Department preceded Cook in condemning Trump's proposal as contrary to American principles and unconstitutional.
"The fact is what Donald Trump said yesterday disqualifies him from serving as president," White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest said.
Every president must take an oath to "preserve, protect and defend" the U.S. Constitution and, by that standard, Trump would be disqualified, Earnest said.
Secretary of State John Kerry said that "non-discrimination and equal treatment are a pillar of not just American values but of our immigration and our admission policies in this country and the State Department remains totally committed to treating all religions with respect and without discrimination."
-- Richard Sisk can be reached at email@example.com