[President] Trump has long mused publicly and privately about wanting such a parade, but a Jan. 18 meeting between Trump and top generals in the Pentagon’s tank — a room reserved for top-secret discussions — marked a tipping point, according to two officials briefed on the planning.
Surrounded by the military’s highest-ranking officials, including Defense Secretary Jim Mattis and Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Gen. Joseph F. Dunford Jr., Trump’s seemingly abstract desire for a parade was suddenly heard as a presidential directive, the officials said.
“The marching orders were: I want a parade like the one in France,” said a military official who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the planning discussions are supposed to remain confidential. “This is being worked at the highest levels of the military.”
By the end of business today, we fervently hope the White House will announce, as it often does after the president is mocked or a childish idea is leaked to the press, that this is all “fake news” — or better, a joke. The president was just joking about a military display more often seen in third-world countries by insecure autocrats trying to impress actual superpowers with a showing of their military hardware!
We can hardly wait for the response from Sen. Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.), who has blasted “Cadet Bone Spurs,” or from military families who have had to endure longer deployments or patients at the Veterans Affairs hospitals who still endure long lines or from those injured in non-combat accidents (“The recent injuries in non-combat accidents follow several years where both non-deployed and deployed troops have seen a rise in accidents and crashes that have prompted operational pauses in the Marine Corps, the Air Force and the Navy,” the Military Times reported.) The notion that the Pentagon should spend a moment or a penny on an exercise more befitting a Gilbert and Sullivan production rather than attending to the multiple battles it is fighting or to suicide prevention among vets or simply to the daily challenges of managing the military reveals how clueless and self-reverential the president is.
A parade along the lines Trump has ordered up would make the military look like Trump’s props, which perhaps was the idea. Now that the idea has been leaked (kudos to whoever understood the quickest way to kill this was to tell the press about it), let’s hope it evaporates like so many other silly Trump ideas.
But France does it! Yes, and the United States generally does not, with the exception of welcome-home festivities at the end of wars. We are the world’s only superpower and do not need theatrical presentations to demonstrate our power. Trump’s elevation of generals and newly retired generals to high civilian posts has already given his administration the aura of a Praetorian Guard, inverting the normal relationship between civilians and the military. We’ve already seen the downsides of the militarization of White House personnel and the president’s disturbing tendency to consider the military his personal (“my generals”) fighting force obligated to follow any order, no matter how contrary to the laws of war it may be. A Trumpian hardware display would complete the disturbing portrait of an administration out of touch with our traditions and norms.
The incident is illustrative in two respects. First, apparently no one has the ability to deter Trump from making wasteful, embarrassing and self-defeating requests of the military. The favored tactic seems to be simply to wait for it to leak or slow-walk a bad idea (e.g., banning transgender troops) until the courts or something else intervenes. Ironically, learning to ignore the commander in chief may be the military’s highest obligation. And second, is Trump unaware of the existing holidays — full days of tribute — which the country uses (Veterans Day, Memorial Day, Armed Services Day) to pay tribute to the finest fighting force the world has ever known? Surely he must recall events held on these days during his first year in office. Perhaps Trump needs to play less golf and spend these days attending existing tributes to our armed forces in ways that highlight them and their sacrifices. His attendance at a series of these celebrations in each year of his presidency would surely call the public’s attention to these fine men and women.
Our military and their families deserve a much better commander in chief who understands democratic values, American traditions and the reasons for civilian control of the military. Unfortunately, they have Trump.
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