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Trump’s Parade and Our Endless Wars

President Trump and Secretary of Defense James Mattis. (DoD photo by U.S. Navy Petty Officer 2nd Class Dominique A. Pineiro)

Trump’s fascination with the military and his need for flattery have found their natural outlet:

President Trump’s vision of soldiers marching and tanks rolling down the boulevards of Washington is moving closer to reality in the Pentagon and White House, where officials say they have begun to plan a grand military parade later this year showcasing the might of America’s armed forces.

Trump has long mused publicly and privately about wanting such a parade, but a Jan. 18 meeting between Trump and top generals in the Pentagon’s tank — a room reserved for top-secret discussions — marked a tipping point, according to two officials briefed on the planning.

Trump enjoys ostentatious displays, and he likes making shows of military strength, so it’s not surprising that he would want a large military parade. The problem with this idea is that the president is interested in it because he means to use the military as a prop to celebrate Trump and to use the respect Americans have for that institution to bolster his own flagging political fortunes. He is not the first politician or president to do this, but when he does it more Americans realize just how garish and obnoxious this behavior is.

The president’s parade idea has been met with plenty of ridicule, much of it deserved, but it is telling that he has not encountered nearly as much criticism for his illegal warmaking or his escalations of endless wars. The administration’s determination to keep U.S. forces in Syria indefinitely without any legal justification is far worse for the country and the military than a ridiculous parade, but there was much less of a backlash to the former than there has been to the latter. When Trump illegally ordered an attack on the Syrian government last year, he was widely praised in Washington for how “presidential” he was instead of being condemned for trampling on the Constitution and the U.N. Charter. He has continued involving the U.S. military in an atrocious war in Yemen that makes our government an accomplice in war crimes and crimes against humanity, but outrage over that remains oddly muted. Last but not least, he has ordered more troops to fight in the desultory war in Afghanistan that no president has the courage to end. Despite putting more Americans in harm’s way without good cause, and despite making the U.S. party to the Saudi-led coalition’s crimes, Trump has faced limited resistance to all of these bad decisions.

Most Americans shrug when our leaders commit our military to fight open-ended, unnecessary wars that can’t be won at an acceptable cost, but they insist on making empty symbolic gestures of “support” for the men and women sent off to wage unwinnable wars unrelated to the defense of the United States. In that sense, Trump’s hoped-for parade is a reflection of the screwed-up priorities and warped understanding of “supporting the troops” that have prevailed in Washington every single day for the last sixteen years.

about the author

Daniel Larison is a senior editor at TAC, where he also keeps a solo blog. He has been published in the New York Times Book Review, Dallas Morning News, World Politics Review, Politico Magazine, Orthodox Life, Front Porch Republic, The American Scene, and Culture11, and was a columnist for The Week. He holds a PhD in history from the University of Chicago, and resides in Lancaster, PA. Follow him on Twitter.

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