'Absolutely no sense': Obama trashes Ted Cruz over his calls for Muslim surveillance

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Obama: Singling Out Muslims in Un-American

In a Wednesday press conference during a visit to Argentina, President Barack Obama called out Republican presidential candidate and Texas Sen. Ted Cruz for suggesting amped-up surveillance of Muslim neighborhoods in the US as a way to prevent terrorist attacks.

Obama's remarks came a day after terrorists hit Belgium, killing at least 31 people and injuring more than 230 in bombings at a Brussels airport and metro station.

SEE ALSO: Belgian police found a suicide note from one of the Brussels attacks suspects

The president emphasized that fighting the terrorist group ISIS (also known as the Islamic State, ISIL, or Daesh) is his "top priority."

But he criticized Cruz for proposing what he termed a "counterproductive" strategy that might isolate American Muslims.

Cruz said in a Tuesday statement that the police should be empowered to "patrol and secure" neighborhoods with large Muslim populations "before they become radicalized."

RELATED: President Obama's trip to Cuba

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President Obama's visit to Cuba
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'Absolutely no sense': Obama trashes Ted Cruz over his calls for Muslim surveillance
U.S. President Barack Obama waves to cheering fans as he arrives for a baseball game between the Tampa Bay Rays and the Cuban national baseball team, in Havana, Cuba, Tuesday, March 22, 2016. The crowd roared as President Obama and Cuban President Raul Castro entered the stadium and walked toward their seats in the VIP section behind home plate. It's the first game featuring an MLB team in Cuba since the Baltimore Orioles played in the country in 1999. (AP Photo/Rebecca Blackwell)
Cuban President Raul Castro (R) raises US President Barack Obama's hand during a joint press conference at the Revolution Palace in Havana on March 21, 2016. Cuba's Communist President Raul Castro on Monday stood next to Barack Obama and hailed his opposition to a long-standing economic 'blockade,' but said it would need to end before ties are fully normalized. AFP PHOTO/STR / AFP / STR (Photo credit should read STR/AFP/Getty Images)
HAVANA, CUBA - MARCH 21: U.S. President Barack Obama (L) greets House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) (C) while acknowledging members of Congress that are attending a state dinner at the Palace of the Revolution March 21, 2016 in Havana, Cuba. March 21, 2016 in Havana, Cuba. This is the first time a sitting U.S. president has visited Cuba in 88 years. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
US President Barack Obama (R) and First Lady Michelle Obama arrive to the state dinner at the Revolution Palace in Havana on March 21, 2016. Obama and Castro vowed Monday in Havana to set aside their differences in pursuit of what the US president called a 'new day' for the long bitterly divided neighbors. AFP PHOTO/Adalberto Roque / AFP / ADALBERTO ROQUE (Photo credit should read ADALBERTO ROQUE/AFP/Getty Images)
US Secretary of State John Kerry (R) speaks with Cuban First Vice President Miguel Diaz Canel ahead of the state dinner at the Revolution Palace in Havana on March 21, 2016. US President Barack Obama and his Cuban counterpart Raul Castro vowed Monday in Havana to set aside their differences in pursuit of what the US president called a 'new day' for the long bitterly divided neighbors. AFP PHOTO/Adalberto Roque / AFP / ADALBERTO ROQUE (Photo credit should read ADALBERTO ROQUE/AFP/Getty Images)
US President Barack Obama gestures during an entrepreneurship panel discussion in Havana on March 21, 2016. Obama and his Cuban counterpart Raul Castro vowed Monday in Havana to set aside their differences in pursuit of what the US president called a 'new day' for the long bitterly divided neighbors. AFP PHOTO/Rodrigo Arangua / AFP / RODRIGO ARANGUA (Photo credit should read RODRIGO ARANGUA/AFP/Getty Images)
US President Barack Obama speaks during an entrepreneurship panel discussion in Havana on March 21, 2016. Obama and his Cuban counterpart Raul Castro vowed Monday in Havana to set aside their differences in pursuit of what the US president called a 'new day' for the long bitterly divided neighbors. AFP PHOTO/RODRIGO ARANGUA / AFP / RODRIGO ARANGUA (Photo credit should read RODRIGO ARANGUA/AFP/Getty Images)
HAVANA, CUBA - MARCH 21: The Presidential motorcade carries U.S. President Obama from the Cuban State Council following a joint press conference on March 21, 2016 in Havana, Cuba. Mr. Obama, who is on a 48 hour trip to Cuba, is the first sitting U.S. President to visit Cuba in almost 90 years.(Photo by Sven Creutzmann/Mambo photo/Getty Images)
HAVANA, CUBA - MARCH 21: U.S. President Barack Obama and Cuban President Raul Castro hold a joint press conference at the Cuban State Council, on March 21, 2016 in Havana, Cuba. Mr. Obama, who is on a 48 hour trip to Cuba, is the first sitting U.S. President to visit Cuba in almost 90 years. (Photo by Ernesto Mastrascusa/LatinContent/Getty Images)
Cuban President Raul Castro delivers a statement alongside U.S. President Barack Obama at the Palacio de la Revolucion in Havana, Cuba, on Monday, March 21, 2016. (Al Diaz/Miami Herald/TNS via Getty Images)
U.S. President Barack Obama delivers a statement alongside Cuban President Raul Castro at the Palacio de la Revolucion in Havana, Cuba, on Monday, March 21, 2016. (Al Diaz/Miami Herald/TNS via Getty Images)
HAVANA, CUBA - MARCH 21: U.S. President Barack Obama stands near the Jose Marti memorial after taking part in a wreath laying ceremony in Revolution Square on March 21, 2016 in Havana, Cuba. Mr. Obama's visit is the first in nearly 90 years for a sitting president, the last one being Calvin Coolidge. (Photo by Ernesto Mastrascusa/LatinContent/Getty Images)
US President Barack Obama (C-L) and Cuban President Raul Castro (C-R) meet at the Revolution Palace in Havana on March 21, 2016. Cuba's Communist President Raul Castro on Monday stood next to Barack Obama and hailed his opposition to a long-standing economic 'blockade,' but said it would need to end before ties are fully normalized. AFP PHOTO/Nicholas KAMM / AFP / NICHOLAS KAMM (Photo credit should read NICHOLAS KAMM/AFP/Getty Images)
HAVANA, CUBA - MARCH 21: President Barack Obama stands with Salvador Valdez Mesa, Vice President of the Council of Ministry, as they take part in a wreath laying ceremony at the Jose Marti memorial in Revolution Square on March 21, 2016 in Havana, Cuba. Mr. Obama's visit is the first in nearly 90 years for a sitting president, the last one being Calvin Coolidge. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)
US Secretary of State John Kerry (L) listens to the US national anthem next to the US delegation at the Revolution Palace in Havana on March 21, 2016. US President Barack Obama and his Cuban counterpart Raul Castro met Monday in Havana's Palace of the Revolution for groundbreaking talks on ending the standoff between the two neighbors. Obama, meeting Castro for only the third time for formal talks, was the first US president in Cuba since 1928. AFP PHOTO/ NICHOLAS KAMM / AFP / NICHOLAS KAMM (Photo credit should read NICHOLAS KAMM/AFP/Getty Images)
HAVANA, CUBA - MARCH 21: U.S. President Barack Obama walks up the stairs of the Palacio de la Revolucion to meet Cuban President Raul Castro on March 21, 2016 in Havana, Cuba. Mr. Obama's visit is the first in nearly 90 years for a sitting president, the last one being Calvin Coolidge. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)
U.S. President Barack Obama, left, attends a State Dinner hosted by Cuban President Raul Castro, right, at the Palace of the Revolution, Monday, March 21, 2016, in Havana, Cuba. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)
HAVANA, CUBA - MARCH 21: U.S. President Barack Obama and Cuban President Raul Castro greet one another at the Palace of the Revolution March 21, 2016 in Havana, Cuba. The first sitting U.S. president to visit Cuba in 88 years, Obama and Castro will be sitting down for bilateral talks. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
President Barack Obama, right, and first lady Michelle arrive for a state dinner with Cuba's President Raul Castro, left, at the Palace of the Revolution in Havana, Cuba, Monday, March 21, 2016. Obama's visit to Cuba is a crowning moment in his and Castro's bid to normalize ties between two countries that sit just 90 miles apart. (AP Photo/Rebecca Blackwell)
President Barack Obama greets people in the audience after speaking at an event about entrepreneurship and opportunity for Cubans at La Cerveceria in Havana, Cuba, Monday, March 21, 2016. Obama's visit to Cuba is a crowning moment in his and President Raul Castro's bid to normalize ties between two countries that sit just 90 miles apart. (AP Photo/Desmond Boylan)
Cuba's President Raul Casro, left, walks with U.S. President Barack Obama, as they inspect the guard in Revolution Palace, Monday, March 21, 2016. Brushing past profound differences, President Obama and President Castro sat down for a historic meeting, offering critical clues about whether Obama's sharp U-turn in policy will be fully reciprocated. (AP Photo/Ramon Espinosa)
President Barack Obama waves to journalists next to a painting of President Abraham Lincoln at Havana's City Museum during a visit to Old Havana, Cuba, Sunday, March 20, 2016. Obama's trip is a crowning moment in his and Cuban President Raul Castro's ambitious effort to restore normal relations between their countries. (AP Photo/Ramon Espinosa)
President Barack Obama and his daughter Malia smile as the visit a monument of Cuban independence hero Carlos Manuel de Cespedes during their visit to Old Havana, Cuba, Sunday, March 20, 2016. First lady Michelle Obama and daughter Sasha stand at left. Obama's trip is a crowning moment in his and Cuban President Raul Castro's ambitious effort to restore normal relations between their countries. (AP Photo/Ramon Espinosa)
US President Barack Obama talks to tourists and Cubans at his arrival to the Havana Cathedral, on March 20, 2016. On Sunday, Obama became the first US president in 88 years to visit Cuba, touching down in Havana for a landmark trip aimed at ending decades of Cold War animosity. AFP PHOTO/YAMIL LAGE / AFP / YAMIL LAGE (Photo credit should read YAMIL LAGE/AFP/Getty Images)
HAVANA, CUBA - MARCH 20: U.S. President Barack Obama (C) walks through the the Museum of the City of Havana during a walking tour of the historic Old Havana guided by city historian Eusebio Leal (R) March 20, 2016 in Havana, Cuba. Obama is the first sitting president to visit Cuba in nearly 90 years. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
HAVANA, CUBA - MARCH 20: U.S. President Barack Obama (C), first lady Michelle Obama and their daughters Malia, 17, and Sasha, 14, stop to look at a painting of Abraham Lincoln in the Museum of the City of Havana during a walking tour of the historic Old Havana guided by city historian Eusebio Leal (L) March 20, 2016 in Havana, Cuba. Obama is the first sitting president to visit Cuba in nearly 90 years. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
US President Barack Obama signs a visitors' book at the Revolution Palace in Havana on March 21, 2016. US President Barack Obama and his Cuban counterpart Raul Castro met Monday in Havana's Palace of the Revolution for groundbreaking talks on ending the standoff between the two neighbors. AFP PHOTO/ NICHOLAS KAMM / AFP / NICHOLAS KAMM (Photo credit should read NICHOLAS KAMM/AFP/Getty Images)
US President Barack Obama attends a wreath-laying ceremony at Jose Marti monument in the Revolution Palace of Havana next to the Vice-President of the Cuban Council Salvador Valdes Mesa (R) on March 21, 2016. US President Barack Obama and his Cuban counterpart Raul Castro met Monday in Havana's Palace of the Revolution for groundbreaking talks on ending the standoff between the two neighbors. AFP PHOTO/ STR / AFP / STR (Photo credit should read STR/AFP/Getty Images)
HAVANA, CUBA - MARCH 21: U.S. President Barack Obama (R) and Cuban President Raul Castro pose for photographs after greeting one another at the Palace of the Revolution March 21, 2016 in Havana, Cuba. The first sitting U.S. president to visit Cuba in 88 years, Obama and Castro will sit down for bilateral talks and will deliver joint statements to the news media. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
US President Barack Obama (L) and Cuban President Raul Castro meet at the Revolution Palace in Havana on March 21, 2016. US President Barack Obama and his Cuban counterpart Raul Castro met Monday in Havana's Palace of the Revolution for groundbreaking talks on ending the standoff between the two neighbors. AFP PHOTO/ NICHOLAS KAMM / AFP / NICHOLAS KAMM (Photo credit should read NICHOLAS KAMM/AFP/Getty Images)
HAVANA, CUBA - MARCH 21: President Barack Obama and John Kerry, U.S. Secretary of State, listen to the playing of the U.S. National Anthem as they take part in a wreath laying ceremony at the Jose Marti memorial in Revolution Square on March 21, 2016 in Havana, Cuba. Mr. Obama's visit is the first in nearly 90 years for a sitting president, the last one being Calvin Coolidge. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)
US President Barack Obama (R), First Lady Michelle Obama (C) and US Charge d'Affaires in Cuba Jeffrey DeLaurentis meet with US embassy staff in Havana on March 20, 2016. Obama arrived in Cuba to bury the hatchet in a more than half-century-long Cold War conflict that turned the communist island and its giant neighbor into bitter enemies. AFP PHOTO/Nicholas KAMM / AFP / NICHOLAS KAMM (Photo credit should read NICHOLAS KAMM/AFP/Getty Images)
HAVANA, CUBA - MARCH 20: President Barack Obama waves as he arrives at Jose Marti International Airport on Air Force One for a 48-hour visit on March 20, 2016 in Havana, Cuba. Mr. Obama's visit is the first in nearly 90 years for a sitting president, the last one being Calvin Coolidge. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)
HAVANA, CUBA - MARCH 20: U.S. President Barack Obama waves as he arrives at Jose Marti International Airport on Airforce One for a 48-hour visit on March 20, 2016 in Havana, Cuba. Mr. Obama's visit is the first in nearly 90 years for a sitting president, the last one being Calvin Coolidge. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)
The plane transporting US President Barack Obama lands at Jose Marti international airport in Havana on March 20, 2016. Obama, who is on a historic three-day visit to the communist-ruled island, flew to Cuba Sunday to bury the hatchet in a more than half-century-long Cold War standoff, but the arrest of dozens of dissidents just as his plane took off underlined the delicacy of the mission. AFP PHOTO/ Yuri CORTEZ / AFP / YURI CORTEZ (Photo credit should read YURI CORTEZ/AFP/Getty Images)
HAVANA, CUBA - MARCH 20: President Barack Obama, Michelle Obama and Sasha Obama (R) arrive at Jose Marti International Airport on Airforce One for a 48-hour visit on March 20, 2016 in Havana, Cuba. Mr. Obama's visit is the first in nearly 90 years for a sitting president, the last one being Calvin Coolidge. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)
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"I just left a country that engages in that kind of neighborhood surveillance, which, by the way, the father of Sen. Cruz escaped for America, the land of the free," Obama said, referencing a historic visit to Cuba earlier in the week.

He added: "The notion that we would start down that slippery slope makes absolutely no sense. It's contrary to who we are, and it's not going to help us to defeat ISIL."

Obama's visit to Cuba marked the first time in 88 years a sitting US president traveled to the communist country. Cruz's father fled Cuba for the US in 1957.

SEE ALSO: Brussels attacks: US couple Justin and Stephanie Shults missing

Obama also criticized Cruz for saying that the US should "carpet bomb" ISIS in Iraq and Syria, a strategy that military experts have called ineffective and possibly illegal.

"When I hear somebody saying we should 'carpet bomb' Iraq or Syria, not only is that inhumane, not only is that contrary to our values, but that would likely be an extraordinary mechanism for ISIL to recruit more people willing to die and explode bombs in an airport or in a metro station," Obama said. "That's not a smart strategy."

Obama noted that what sets the US apart from Europe, which sees higher rates of foreign fighters traveling to join terrorist groups, is that Muslims are better integrated into American society.

He said:

One of the great strengths of the United States, and part of the reason why we have not seen more attacks in the United States, is we have an extraordinarily successful, patriotic, integrated Muslim-American community. They do not feel ghettoized, they do not feel isolated. Their children are our children's friends, going to the same schools. They are our colleagues in our workplaces. They are our men and women in uniform, fighting for our freedom.

And so any approach that would single them out or target them for discrimination is not only wrong and un-American, but it also would be counterproductive. Because it would reduce the strength, the antibodies that we have to resist terrorism.

Obama also defended the US strategy for defeating ISIS, saying that US approach has been "continuously to adjust to see what works and what doesn't."

"What has been working is the air strikes that we're taking on their leadership, on their infrastructure, on their financial systems," he said.

"What has been working is special operators partnering with Iraqi Security Forces and going after leadership networks and couriers and disrupting the connection between their bases in Raqqa and their bases in Mosul," he continued.

But he acknowledged the challenges of identifying threats in Western countries.

"It's challenging to find, identify very small groups of people who are willing to die themselves and can walk into a crowd and detonate a bomb," Obama said.

"And my charge to my team is to find every strategy possible to successfully reduce the risk of such terrorist attacks even after we go after their beating heart in places like Iraq and Syria."

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