By Zhang Zhixin
US President Donald Trump has told the Pentagon that he wants a grand military parade in Washington to celebrate military strength, according to reports in US media outlets. White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders later confirmed the request, saying the president expects the Department of Defense to "explore a celebration at which all Americans can show their appreciation." Nonetheless, the latest marching orders of Trump have triggered frustration even before being elaborated. Why do so many people object to Trump's plan of hosting a military parade?
Major military parades have not been common in modern US history. In January 1946, a victory parade was held in New York City to celebrate the end of World War II. During the Cold War, former US presidents Harry Truman, Dwight D. Eisenhower and John F. Kennedy hosted displays of military might to deter the Soviet Union. The last time Washington organized a military parade was in June 1991 under the George H. W. Bush administration to mark the US victory in the first Gulf War. Now after nearly a 30-year hiatus, Trump wants a military parade again. It is hard to think of a reason for a muscular military parade without celebrating a war victory or to awe the enemy.
Rand Paul, US Senator from Kentucky, wrote in an opinion piece on February 7, "So I propose we declare victory in Afghanistan, bring home our 14,000 troops and hold a victory parade." By this, he meant that the reasons for Trump's idea are thin on the ground now that US troops remain engaged in battles across the world.
Trump mused about the plan of an attention-grabbing military parade out of his eagerness to show off US power. In addition, he was dazzled by the traditional Bastille Day military parade he watched with his French counterpart Emmanuel Macron in Paris last July. He reminisced about uniformed French soldiers marching down the Champs-Elysées avenue, tanks, armored vehicles, carriers rolling down the boulevard, fighter jets painting a tricolor flag over the Arc de Triomphe. He called it one of the greatest parades he has ever seen.
However, many are worried that hosting a military parade may become part of Trump's "reality show" as a nontraditional president and may politicize the homage to the military. It has been one year since Trump entered the White House but his approval ratings have all along been hovering at historic lows. Perhaps he's also attempting to earn more support by honoring the troops, as the daunting mid-term elections approach.
Actually, the US does not need to flex its muscles. As a leading military power in the world, the US boasts of a huge military budget many times more than any other country, and advanced weaponry and professional combat systems that the rest of the world can hardly match. Furthermore, it has had its arms and military tactics tested in battlefields in many places in the world. Therefore, Trump's idea is indeed an unnecessary move.
And, an important reason that affects the feasibility of a military parade, though not a decisive one, is that it will be a waste of money and manpower. For one, neither the New York City nor Washington has a boulevard solid enough for heavy tanks and armored vehicles to roll on. There's one concern which is quite practical: "70-ton tanks built for the battlefield would chew up Pennsylvania Avenue blacktop." The muscle show may end up in an exposure of tattered infrastructure.
For the other, shipping tanks and other jumbo military equipment to Washington could cost millions of dollars. Who will pay for it especially when Democrats and Republicans are at odds over budget bills? The Trump administration is expected to release its fiscal 2019 budget proposal on Monday and expand military expenditure. Spending on a military parade will likely exacerbate the row between the two parties. No wonder why so many Republicans, along with Democrats, say no to the president's grand military parade plan.
The author is a vice research fellow with the Institute of American Studies at the China Institutes of Contemporary International Relations.