Planning begins for Trump’s military parade

Greg Nash

President Trump’s call for a large-scale military parade in Washington, D.C., drew considerable pushback Wednesday even as the military made clear that they are moving forward with the idea.

On Tuesday night, the White House confirmed a report from The Washington Post that Trump had requested that the Pentagon begin planning a military parade.

{mosads}Defense Secretary James Mattis said officials are working on options to present to the president.

“I think we’re all aware in this country of the president’s affection and respect for the military,” Mattis told reporters at the White House. “We’ve been putting together some options. We’ll send them up to the White House for decision.”

But when asked about the cost of a parade after he spent much of the briefing making the case for adequate, stable defense funding, Mattis dodged.

“I think what my responsibility is to make certain I lay out the strategy and make the argument for the oversight of Congress to make the determination of fully funding us. As far as the parade goes, again, the president’s respect, his fondness for the military, I think is reflected in him asking for these options,” Mattis said.

Trump has long expressed a desire for a display of the military’s might in the capital. He reportedly wanted to include tanks and missile launchers in his inauguration parade, and has also said he’s considering a military parade for the Fourth of July.

According to the Post, Trump made the request the Pentagon is now planning for during a Jan. 18 meeting with Pentagon brass, including Mattis and Gen. Joseph Dunford, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

Asked about the parade on Wednesday, Dunford would only confirm the request.

“I’m aware of the president’s request, and we are in the initial planning stages to meet the president’s direction,” Dunford said, according to reporters traveling with him in Bangkok.

The Pentagon has since said the Army will take the lead on planning the parade, but it cautioned that no decisions have been made on when it will occur or what it will entail.

“We are aware of the request and are in the process of determining specific details. As you can expect, this is a complex event and there are many variables that go into the planning and execution of a parade,” Pentagon spokesman Army Lt. Col. Jamie Davis told The Hill.

“DOD will provide options for the president and send them to the White House for review.”

The president’s critics quickly pounced on the idea of a military parade, saying it evokes the tactics of the Soviet Union or North Korea, not a democracy that is sure of its military strength.

Reps. Ruben Gallego (D-Ariz.) and Ted Lieu (D-Calif.), military veterans on the House Armed Services Committee and Foreign Affairs Committee, respectively, wrote a letter to Mattis urging him to tell Trump such a parade would be “frivolous.”

“No one in the world doubts the strength of our military or the professionalism of our men and women in uniform,” they wrote. “A parade will not alter that perception. Instead, it will likely prompt ridicule from our friends and foes alike. It should go without saying that just because authoritarian regimes like Russia and North Korea hold massive military parades does not mean that we must as well.”

Rep. Adam Smith (D-Wash.), ranking member of the House Armed Services Committee, likewise said he was “greatly concerned” with the reported plans.

“The military is not President Trump’s personal toy set,” Smith said in a statement. “He cannot be allowed to continue focusing on parades and ego-inflating toys instead of real, basic military needs that can jeopardize lives if they are not met.”

Top Democrats on the Senate Armed Services Committee and the Senate Appropriations Committee Defense Subcommittee sent a letter to Mattis demanding answers on the cost of such an event.

“At a time of war, with American service members serving in harm’s way, such a parade seems to be inappropriate and wasteful,” the lawmakers wrote.

“Every penny of the millions of dollars that the parade would cost and every second of the tens of thousands of personnel hours its execution would require, should be devoted to the most essential missions of the Department of Defense — protecting the American people and our security interests.”

Republican lawmakers, meanwhile, said they were sympathetic to the desire to honor the military, though they raised concerns about cost and other particulars.

“Cost would be a factor,” Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-N.Y.) said on CNN on Tuesday night. “I don’t believe that we should have tanks or nuclear weapons going down Pennsylvania Avenue. … If there’s an idea that could have a greater celebration — obviously I have a question or two as far as costs go — but I’d be all for hearing out any ideas to make a more special July 4 Independence Day experience here in Washington, D.C.”

Rep. Mac Thornberry (R-Texas), chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, said he didn’t “know that it’s necessary” and pivoted to touting a budget deal reached Wednesday.

“Any time you can show appreciation and admiration the men and women in uniform who serve in the military that’s a good thing,” he continued. “But the best way to show it is to support this budget and make that they have planes that fly and ships that sail and have the training they needs for missions.”

Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, told CNN he supports a parade that focuses on the troops rather than military equipment.

“I don’t mind having a parade honoring the service and sacrifice of our military members,” Graham said. “I’m not looking for a Soviet-style hardware display. That’s not who we are, it’s kind of cheesy and I think it shows weakness, quite frankly.”

There’s precedent for having a military parade in Washington that showcases military hardware alongside the troops. The last such parade was held in 1991, to celebrate the end of the Gulf War.

In that display, President George H.W. Bush watched as Abrams tanks and Patriot missile systems rolled by 200,000 spectators on Constitution Avenue as stealth fighter planes flew above and fireworks were set off. The display cost an estimated $8 million.

Trump’s supporters say critics of the parade are being disingenuous and skewing history.

James Carafano, a defense policy expert at the Heritage Foundation who is close with the administration, knocked both the arguments about optics and funding, but said there are “way bigger issues” to debate than a parade.

“It’s pretty fatuous that we’ve been gutting our military and readiness for years and now they’re saying something because of a parade,” he said. “Where were they in the eight years we’ve been gutting our military?”

But Rebeccah Heinrichs, a national security expert at the Hudson Institute, argued it’s “out of whack to be thinking about a grand military parade in the capital,” at a time of constrained defense budgets.

“The hysteria about this being authoritarian is completely overdone, but I will say right now, Congress is having a very difficult time passing a full-year defense spending bill,” she said.

Tags Adam Smith Donald Trump James Mattis Lee Zeldin Lindsey Graham Mac Thornberry Ruben Gallego

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