Criticized for avoiding the phrase “Islamic extremism,” President Obama said he doesn’t want to alienate the majority of peace-loving Muslims as the U.S. fights to defeat terrorist networks around the world.

“I think that for us to be successful in fighting this scourge, it’s very important for us to align ourselves with the 99.9 percent of Muslims who are looking for the same thing we’re looking for — order, peace, prosperity,” Mr. Obama said on CNN. “And so I don’t quibble with labels.”

The president also said he doesn’t want to “over-inflate” the importance of terrorist groups by sending U.S. troops to occupy countries in the Middle East or by “playing whack-a-mole” against terrorist leaders because it drains America’s financial strength.

After the terrorist attacks in Paris last month that killed at least 17 people, Mr. Obama was widely criticized for referring to “violent extremism” instead of violence motivated by Islamist beliefs. Republicans and even some Democratic critics say the president and his advisers are ignoring the root causes of jihadi attacks.