“A military parade is third world bulls—-,” wrote Robert James O’Neill. “We prepare. We deter. We fight. Stop this conversation.”
O’Neill was among dozens of U.S. Special Operations troops to attack bin Laden’s Pakistan hideout in 2011, and he told The Washington Post’s Joby Warrick in 2014 that he shot the terrorist leader as he took cover in the dark behind his youngest wife.
While Trump has long talked about his wish for a show of military strength, the idea of soldiers marching down boulevards alongside tanks did not seem likely until Jan. 18, when Trump gave the order to top Pentagon generals.
The president said he wanted a parade similar to the annual Bastille Day celebration in Paris, according to a military official who spoke to The Washington Post’s Greg Jaffe and Philip Rucker on the condition of anonymity. Trump was charmed by that parade when he attended last year as a guest of French President Emmanuel Macron.
Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said Thursday that he will give President Trump several options for staging the parade in Washington but declined to share his feelings about the plan.
“I owe him some options,” Mattis told reporters. “We’ll put together options, and we will work everything from size to participation to cost, and when I get clear options, we’ll send those over to the White House, and I’ll go over and talk with them.”
America has not held a large military parade since 1991, when President George H.W. Bush led the celebration down Constitution Avenue to mark the country’s victory in the Persian Gulf War.
Like O’Neill, many are skeptical of the significance and necessity of such fanfare. A parade could cost millions, Jaffe and Rucker reported, as it’s expensive for Abrams tanks and other high-tech hardware to be sent to Washington. Rep. Ted Lieu (D-Calif), an Air Force veteran, tweeted that the parade would be a waste.
Rep. Ruben Gallego (D-Ariz.), a Marine veteran who served in Iraq, also said the parade doesn’t make financial sense.
“No one in the world doubts the strength of our military or the professionalism of our men and women in uniform. A parade will not alter that perception. Instead, it will likely prompt ridicule from our friends and foes alike,” he said in a statement.
Other critics of Trump’s parade have called his idea shallow, as the president has never served in the military. Some, like retired Major Gen. Paul Eaton, have even likened the president to an authoritarian dictator.
“The military is not Donald Trump’s to use and abuse in this way. Our military is the very best in the world — they are not to be reduced to stagecraft to prop up Donald Trump’s image. Any commander in chief who respects the traditions of the military would understand that,” Eaton said in a statement through Vote Vets, a left-leaning veterans group.
“Unfortunately, we do not have a commander in chief, right now, as much as we have a wannabe banana republic strongman,” he said.
Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.) — a friend of Trump — also opposed the parade, telling reporters Wednesday that an event showcasing the country’s military power was “kind of cheesy and a sign of weakness.”
Some think Trump’s parade would be a morale boost for the American people more than a message for other countries.
“Most Americans will eat it up,” former White House press secretary Ari Fleischer said in a tweet. “They’ll love the pomp and will take pride in the show of force/honor of the troops.”
O’Neill first entered the public sphere in 2014, when he began talking about his role in Operation Neptune Spear, the covert mission aimed at eliminating bin Laden. As former Washington Post reporter Thomas Gibbons-Neff reported:
O’Neill’s exploits were first described anonymously in a 2013 Esquire article that referred to him only as “The Shooter.” In October 2014, his identity was released to the public after an emotional exchange between O’Neill and family members of those killed during the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.O’Neill left the Navy in 2012 as a senior chief petty officer and has since taken up a career in public speaking. According to his personal website, O’Neill participated in more than 400 combat missions and received two Silver Stars and four Bronze Stars with Valor.
He made headlines last year when he defended the military on Fox and Friends, after a Drexel University professor tweeted that he wanted to vomit when he saw a man give up his first-class plane seat for a uniformed soldier.