President Obama’s use Sunday night of the acronym ISIL instead of ISIS to refer to the Islamic State terror group is sparking another round of criticism and speculation about his word choice and its political significance.
“Wish Obama would say ISIL, like almost everybody else, rather than ISIL,” tweeted 2016 Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump.
Obama’s weekend address in which he suggested the Islamic State is entering a “new phase” of global terrorism was not the first instance in which he used the term ISIL, nor was it the first criticism.
Critics point out that he used the term repeatedly in other big occasions -- including his 2014 State of Union and U.S. Military Academy at West Point addresses.
Critics argue Obama avoids the term ISIS because it means the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria -- where the terror group has flourished because, in part, Obama and other world leaders cannot bring stability to those countries.
The White House on Monday responded to a FoxNews.com question about the president’s word choice.
A spokesperson for the National Security Council said U.S. government officials use ISIL as the preferred term because they believe it is the most accurate translation of the group’s name from Arabic to English,
In addition, the spokesperson said that officials also refer to the group as “Da’esh” because “that is the name frequently used in the region and by some European partners, including France.”
Most interpretations have ISIL as standing for the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant.
Steven Bucci, a former Pentagon official and a foreign policy expert with the conservative-leaning Heritage Foundation, said Monday that he and others use ISIS because the term implies the group’s hold on a larger swath of territory and its ambition to control more.
He says ISIL is associated with essentially the Mediterranean coasts of Israel, Lebanon and some of Syria, while ISIS includes western Egypt and land beyond the coast.
“It shows the appetite of this organization, what it considers its base level and area of aspiration,” Bucci said.
He declined to say whether using the term ISIL downplays the Islamic State’s substantial and growing caliphate. And he says he interprets ISIS as the Islamic State or Iraq and al Sham, not Syria.
Critics of the term ISIL also argue that it refers to the Levant -- a term used before the Islamic State came into power during the Obama administration.
They also say that the president does use the term Islamic State because he won’t associate terrorism with the religion of Islam and its followers, Muslims. And they point out he won’t use the term “radical Islam.”
“What we have is a president and commander in chief who refuses to recognize our enemy,” GOP presidential candidate and Texas Sen. Ted Cruz said Monday. “Our enemy is radical Islamic terrorism.”
Trump has raised similar concerns, but his campaign did not respond to several attempts Monday for an explanation about why exactly the candidate appears to have a problem with the terms ISIS and radical Islam.
Earlier this year, White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest said the term “radical Islam” simply was not “accurate.”
Obama, on Sunday, in his prime-time, 2069-word address, 19 times used the word ISIL, never referring to the group as either ISIS or the Islamic State.