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Analysis: Critics say Trump parade costly, won't fix military's problems

| Thursday, Feb. 8, 2018, 12:27 a.m.
In this file photograph taken on July 14, 2017, (from left) first lady Melania Trump, President Trump, French President Emmanuel Macron and his wife Brigitte Macron attend the annual Bastille Day military parade on the Champs-Elysees avenue in Paris.
AFP/Getty Images
In this file photograph taken on July 14, 2017, (from left) first lady Melania Trump, President Trump, French President Emmanuel Macron and his wife Brigitte Macron attend the annual Bastille Day military parade on the Champs-Elysees avenue in Paris.

President Trump is receiving quite a bit of pushback for his plan for a grand military parade down Pennsylvania Avenue.

According to a Washington Post report:

“Surrounded by the military's highest-ranking officials, including Defense Secretary Jim Mattis and Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Gen. Joseph F. Dunford Jr., Trump's seemingly abstract desire for a parade was suddenly heard as a presidential directive, the officials said.

“ ‘The marching orders were: I want a parade like the one in France,' said a military official who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the planning discussions are supposed to remain confidential. ‘This is being worked at the highest levels of the military.'”

Even the hosts of Trump's beloved “Fox and Friends” expressed reservations about the spectacle that could cost millions.

“I don't know,” co-host Brian Kilmeade said Wednesday. “It seems like a waste of money.”

Trump has frequently spoken of his longtime support for veterans — he praised them twice in the past week in his Black History Month proclamation and in his Super Bowl statement.

But the president's critics have called his support for the military shallow, noting that Trump has never served in uniform (he was approved of multiple deferments for bone spurs during the Vietnam War), and he has attempted to fill his administration with generals for the purpose of optics.

Some critics even went so far as to say the parading of military strength makes Trump look more like an authoritarian dictator than the leader of a democracy.

Rep. Ted Lieu, D-Calif., an Air Force veteran, tweeted that Trump's proposal is a significant waste of funds and suggested Trump focus on other issues, like developing a military strategy.

And Rep. Ruben Gallego, D-Ariz., a Marine veteran who served in Iraq, said a parade makes little sense financially or in terms of international relations.

“A parade of this kind would represent a significant waste of tax dollars. At a time when Congress is wrestling with how best to recapitalize our military and better protect the force after 17 years of war in Afghanistan and Iraq, resources should be deployed to enhance military readiness and warfighting, not wasted on such a pointless display,” he said in a statement. “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.”

Vote Vets, a left-leaning veterans group, rebuked the idea with retired Maj. Gen. Paul Eaton, a senior adviser to the group, saying: “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. Unfortunately, we do not have a commander in chief, right now, as much as we have a wannabe banana republic strongman.”

But unsurprisingly, some conservatives have expressed support for the parade.

Former White House press secretary Ari Fleischer said Democrats and the media will criticize the decision, but citizens will love it.

“Ds and most media will decry this, objecting to the costs. When it happens, many Ds won't like it because it's militaristic. But most Americans will eat it up. They'll love the pomp and will take pride in the show of force/honor of the troops,” he tweeted.

Many lawmakers and veterans on both sides of the aisle would agree that America needs to put more of a spotlight on veterans and members of the military. When it comes to issues related to physical and mental health, homelessness, unemployment and sexual abuse, advocates say the military is often underfunded and undersupported.

A White House official familiar with the planning told The Post that the event is still in the “brainstorming” phase. But even if Trump did not require Americans to foot the bill and instead relied on wealthy donors, critics are bound to ask why the president is choosing to fund pageantry instead of areas that could tangibly improve the lives of veterans.

John Hoellwarth, communications director for American Veterans, a service organization, told The Washington Post that a parade “lionizing the military” could address the military's existing recruitment problems.

“Burning the existing budget on a parade is probably a better idea than flying aircraft over a dome during the Super Bowl and is not a terrible idea provided that it doesn't come at the expense of other programs” like those related to providing adequate health care for severely injured troops, he said.

Voters who served in the military (mostly veterans but also active duty) supported Trump by 60 percent over his Democratic rival, Hillary Clinton, in the 2016 presidential election.

There's no polling showing what service members want most from their president, but the likelihood of a parade being at the top of the list is low.

Eugene Scott writes for The Washington Post

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