WASHINGTON — The administration on Wednesday defended President Donald Trump’s idea for a national military parade, as some former military officials likened the proposed parade to affairs held by authoritarian regimes and some lawmakers questioned the costs that might be involved.
Defense Secretary Jim Mattis told reporters Wednesday that at Trump’s request the Department of Defense was “putting together some options” for a possible armed forces parade in the nation’s capital.
“I think we’re all aware in this country of the president’s affection and respect for the military,” Mattis said at the White House daily press briefing. “We’ve been putting together some options. We’ll send them up to the White House for decision.”
On Tuesday, the Washington Post reported that Trump had ordered Pentagon officials to plan a large-scale parade in the nation’s capital showcasing the country’s military might including a processional of tanks, military equipment and soldiers down Pennsylvania Avenue. The president, according to the Post, was inspired by France’s Bastille Day celebrations, which feature marching soldiers and armored vehicles. He attended last year’s celebration alongside French President Emmanuel Macron.
News of Trump’s proposed parade spurred a range of reactions, with several Republicans and Democrats alike raising concerns about the millions of dollars that would be incurred transporting military equipment to the nation’s capital at a time when the military’s top brass have been lobbying Congress for more military funding.
Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-Shirley), an Army veteran and major with the Army reserves, told CNN he doesn’t “believe that we should have tanks and nuclear weapons going down Pennsylvania Avenue,” but supports having a “greater celebration” to honor soldiers and veterans.
Zeldin, noting that Congress had yet to adopt a long-term budget to finance military spending, said “cost would be a factor” in supporting a large-scale military parade.
Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee said the “idea of having a thank you parade” for the armed forces “makes sense,” but “the idea of showing muscle through a parade . . . is counter to what we’re about and would actually be a sign of weakness, not strength.”
“I’m not looking for a Soviet-style hardware display,” Graham told CNN. “That’s not who we are, it’s kind of cheesy and I think it shows weakness, quite frankly. But to have a parade where we can display our finest and we can all say thank you and honor them would be fine.”
Retired Maj. Gen. Paul Eaton, an adviser to VoteVets an organization focused on electing veterans to public office, criticized the president’s idea, saying Trump “has has continually shown himself to have authoritarian tendencies and this is just another worrisome example.”
“For someone who just declared that it was ‘treasonous’ to not applaud him, and for someone who has, in the past, admired the tactics of everyone from Saddam Hussein to Vladimir Putin, it is clear that a military parade isn’t about saluting the military — it is about making a display of the military saluting him,” Eaton wrote on Twitter.
Retired Air Force Gen. Michael Hayden, who also served as director of the CIA and National Security Agency, wrote on Twitter, “Put me down as a No!” in response to a question about military support for the parade.
White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders, asked about criticisms that the parade might resemble displays organized by authoritarian regimes, said it was too early to “start weighing in on whether or not we think certain things are appropriate, when nothing has been decided and it’s literally in a brainstorming session.”
“The President is very proud of the United States military and all that they do on behalf of all of us, and we’re simply exploring options,” Sanders said.
The federal government has sponsored military parades in the past, but they have generally been used to celebrate the end of a war, such as the 1991 parade held to honor those who served in the Gulf War.