- The term is used by many conservatives in defining the enemy
- But NSC adviser McMaster recommended that Trump not use the term
"I think you have to be careful with phrases like that. They are loaded with meaning for different groups," the former CIA director told CNN's Frederik Pleitgen at a German Marshall Fund event in Berlin. "I have certainly never shied away from describing Islamic extremism as the overarching umbrella under which you have the Islamic State and al Qaeda and their affiliates."
The term is used by many conservatives in defining the enemy in the fight against terrorism. Critics say the term alienates Muslims and legitimizes terrorists' religious crusades.
"You just have to be very careful not to tar an entire major religion of the world with an extremist brush or a radical brush," Petraeus said.
That view is shared by Trump's new national security adviser, H.R. McMaster, who, a senior administration official said, recommended to Trump earlier this week that he not use the term. McMaster's argument was that militants, like members of ISIS, are not representative of Islam and that the term offends Muslims the US needs to work with to defeat the ideology behind terrorist groups.
Trump overruled McMaster and used the term in his joint address to Congress Tuesday night, but the official said McMaster still hoped to persuade the President to soften his rhetoric on the issue in the days to come.
Petraeus, whose name was floated for the position after the ouster of Michael Flynn just a month into Trump's tenure, had only positive things to say about McMaster in his interview with Pleitgen.
"I'm very, very high on H.R. McMaster," he said. "I think he's brilliant in mind and also brilliant as a team builder and as a leader."