The United States has the world’s most capable fighting force. But do we really want to spike the ball at a time when the country is embroiled in two wars, with no end in sight?
The president seems to think so. President Donald Trump, apparently taken by the Bastille Day parade in Paris, which he attended last summer, has instructed Pentagon brass to organize an even bigger show of military strength, down Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington – tanks, missiles, jets and rows of uniformed troops marching in precision.
“We’re going to have to try to top” the French procession, he told reporters. No date has been set, but the planning is underway.
It’s all a bit silly. But leaving aside, for the moment, Trump’s insecurities and his desire to do everything bigger than anyone else, there are some serious reasons to reject his idea.
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Trump’s parade would further militarize America’s image. And it would be expensive, costing millions of dollars and most likely tearing up Washington’s streets. Does that make sense when the Pentagon is complaining that its $700 billion annual budget is inadequate, Congress is cutting vital programs, the State Department is being eviscerated and a Republican tax cut for the wealthy has added billions of dollars to the deficit?
The United States used to regularly hold national military parades, generally to mark military victories. They took place after the Civil War, World War I and World War II. Most recently, the first President George Bush presided as 8,800 troops, with weapons, marched through Washington after the 1991 Persian Gulf War ended.
(But) Trump is trying to exploit the armed forces as a political prop, even as he daily undermines the country’s other real and enduring strengths, including an independent judiciary and a free press. During the Cold War, such military spectacles were a hallmark of the Soviets. Today, North Korea regularly stages its own robotic displays of military power.
To defend itself and its allies, the United States must have a strong military. Yet what Americans and the world need from Trump is ... a demonstration that he understands that national strength relies on much more than military power.