WASHINGTON — There are no concrete plans yet for the military parade that President Donald Trump wants, chief Pentagon spokeswoman Dana White said at a Thursday briefing, but officials are working on options to send to the White House.
Trump called for a military parade in a Jan. 18 meeting held with top Pentagon officials, where he reportedly said he wanted a parade “like the one in France.” In July, Trump attended a military parade with French president Emanuel Macron to celebrate Bastille Day and commemorate the 100th anniversary of the United States’ entry into World War I.
White said that the president had requested an event to honor service members, not necessarily celebrate a military victory, but that no further decisions had been made.
Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis was at the meeting where Trump first mentioned the parade, he said at the White House press briefing on Wednesday.
“I think we’re all aware in this country of the president’s affection and respect for the military. We’ve been putting together some options,” Mattis said. “We’ll send them up to the White House for decision.”
John Glasner, director of foreign policy studies at the Cato Institute, a libertarian think tank, said Trump called for the parade because he “knows there are strong societal pressures to show ostentatious appreciation for servicemen and women regardless of one’s political views.”
“Trump wants to capitalize on that and leech off the American public’s affinity for the military,” Glasner said in an email. “I think he views a military parade as a way to depict himself as not just a patriotic president, but as a strong military leader.”
White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders said on Tuesday that Trump is “incredibly supportive of America’s great service members who risk their lives every day to keep our country safe.”
“He has asked the Department of Defense to explore a celebration at which all Americans can show their appreciation,” Sanders said.
Since Trump’s announcement, lawmakers in Washington have had mixed reactions to the possibility of a military parade.
Some, like Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, support the idea of the parade. Graham said on Twitter that he hopes it does not “focus on military hardware, but on military service, sacrifice, and saying ‘Thank You’ to those who protect our nation.”
My hope is this parade will not focus on military hardware, but on military service, sacrifice, and saying ‘Thank You” to those who protect our nation.
— Lindsey Graham (@LindseyGrahamSC) 7. Februar 2018
Other lawmakers have criticized spending money on a full-scale military parade rather supporting troops more directly.
“Take the money that the president would like to spend on this parade [and] instead let’s make sure our troops are ready for battle and survive it and come home to their families,” Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., said to MSNBC reporters Wednesday.
Rep. Justin Amash, R-Mich., took to Twitter to say that he would support a parade that “[celebrates] bringing our young men and women home from these unauthorized wars overseas.”
I’m all for a parade if it’s to celebrate bringing our young men and women home from these unauthorized wars overseas.
— Justin Amash (@justinamash) 7. Februar 2018
Durbin and three other Democratic senators — Gary Peters of Michigan, Jack Reed of Rhode Island and Patrick Leahy of Vermont — sent a letter to Mattis Wednesday in which they asked what “military need” the parade would fulfill.
“At a time of war, with American service members serving in harm’s way, such a parade seems to be inappropriate and wasteful,” the senators said in the letter. “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.”
Rep. Lee Zeldin, R-N.Y., who has supported Trump in the past, also criticized the proposed parade. He decried the possibility of military vehicles rolling through the capital.
“I don’t believe we should have tanks or nuclear weapons going down Pennsylvania Avenue,” Zeldin said in a CNN interview on Tuesday. “Cost would be a factor.”
In the past few decades, military parades have not been a common occurrence in the United States. The last, held in June 1991 under President George H. W. Bush, commemorated the end of the Gulf War.
It featured thousands of soldiers who marched through the streets of Washington— as well as 100 flyover planes. Reports state the parade drew a crowd of 200,000, and the Los Angeles Times called it the biggest victory celebration since World War II.
One of the reasons military parades are so rare is the high cost of shipping tanks and high-tech hardware to Washington. Military officials have told multiple news outlets that such a process is not cheap and could end up running in the millions.
The parade in 1991 cost $12 million, of which the government paid $3 million. The rest of the money came from private donations. Adjusted for inflation, a parade of the same scale would cost $21 million today.
Cost of the 1991 Parade
- Cost of the 1991 parade ($12 million)
- Amount paid by the government ($3 million)
- Cost adjusted for inflation ($21 million)
Sen. Tammy Duckworth, D-Ill., also called out the potential costs of the parade, tweeting that the parade would “waste” taxpayer dollars and cost the military “precious time and resources.”
Our troops in danger overseas don’t need a show of bravado, they need steady leadership, long-term funding and resources so they can stay safe while protecting and defending our nation
— Tammy Duckworth (@SenDuckworth) 7. Februar 2018
Glasner said in the email that the military parade is attractive to Trump “because he wants to drum up national unity, make a spectacle out of his position as commander in chief, and signal to the world how strong a military power America is.”
In an interview, Glasner added that a parade could signal “a formal statement of a more militarist approach” by the United States to nations abroad, but likely wouldn’t result in actual escalation.
Sen. John Kennedy, R-La., told ABC News on Wednesday that he thinks broadcasting military power would send the wrong signals.
“I think confidence is silent and insecurity is loud,” Kennedy said. “America is the most powerful country in all of human history; you don’t need to show it off.”