WASHINGTON — What this country needs is a massive, costly, super-extravagant military parade down Pennsylvania Avenue with tanks, fighter flyovers, bands, horses, and hundreds of uniformed, high-stepping troops all saluting their commander in chief, Donald Trump.
It would cost at least $22 million, divert training, and be highly unpopular in the military, which considers such large displays a waste of time, but it’s what Trump wants. What Trump wants, Trump gets.
Ever since Trump was feted at the annual Bastille Day military parade in Paris, he’s coveted one like it. Actually, bigger and better. “We’re going to have to try to top it,” Trump assured French President Emmanuel Macron.
Trump was sent to military boarding school but never served in the military, getting an exemption for bone spurs. But he claims great affection for the military and has expanded combat troops in Afghanistan, threatened North Korea, and vowed to spend a whopping $716 billion on the military. No other country in history has ever spent that much on its military. The White House says Trump is “incredibly supportive” of the nation’s service members.
Trump also has resolved to beef up the nation’s nuclear arsenal after decades of arms agreements to reduce nukes worldwide. He famously tweeted about North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un, “Will someone from his depleted and food starved regime please inform him that I too have a Nuclear Button, but it is a much bigger and more powerful one than his and my Button works!”
The new Trump nuclear plan revolves around new tactics and forecasts a new nuclear era in which low-yield nuclear weapons are designed to parry Russian encroachment outside its boundaries and which would be relatively easy to use. This is one reason the so-called Doomsday Clock has been reset closer to midnight.
But we digress. Back to the parade.
It sounds as if Trump envisions something monumental – flyovers, tanks, weapons displays, well-rehearsed marching units. Martial encomiums that would go on for two hours.
The irony is that Trump did not enjoy his own inaugural parade. He complained there were not enough A-list celebrities. He appeared visibly angry and put-out during the entire parade. He was upset that former President Barack Obama’s inauguration had three times as many people as his did and there were many empty seats in Trump’s reviewing stands.
Trump told the generals he is thinking of his military parade for Memorial Day or July Fourth, but the Pentagon is holding out for Nov. 11, when it at least would have a purpose of recognizing the 100th anniversary of the end of World War I.
It is troubling that when you think of gargantuan military parades, you think of North Korea under anybody named Kim, France under Napoleon, Germany under the kaiser, Germany under Hitler, Russia under Stalin, Russia under Putin, Rome under Caesar. Let’s just say the history of dictatorships is replete with showy military parades.
The White House says Trump just wants to honor the military, not himself. The military would probably rather not have to get ready for a parade but would prefer better domestic support for families, better equipment (yes, soldiers still have to provide much of their own), time to train, better care for veterans, higher pay, and, above all, serious help for those who have been in combat and return with PTSD.
The last military parade was in 1991 when President George H.W. Bush was celebrating the end of the first Persian Gulf War. It cost $12 million.
Of Trump’s idea, Sen. Dick Durbin (D., Ill.) said, “That’s a fantastic amount of money to amuse the president.” He suggested using the money to make sure soldiers are ready for battle and return safely.
Iraq and Afghanistan veterans’ groups say their members, still grappling with the effects of the recent government shutdown, don’t support a logistically draining parade without a clear goal. Tanks and equipment have to be pulled out of training and laboriously cleaned. Troops give up precious free time.
But it isn’t whimsy. Trump’s desire is treated as an order from the commander in chief. Defense Secretary James Mattis said the Pentagon is preparing options. There could be a cheaper, less time-consuming option. What is the chance Trump the Showman would choose that one?
We have the world’s best military. Do we really need a parade to prove it?
Ann McFeatters is an op-ed columnist for Tribune News Service. firstname.lastname@example.org.