President Donald J. Trump today officially cancelled his planned fall military parade in Washington, D.C., complaining about how much the District wanted to charge the federal government for the cost of hosting. Members of Congress had urged Mr. Trump to spend the money (as much as $92 million by one estimate) on veterans’ mental health services. Instead, the president tweeted this morning that he might just use the money on “some more jet fighters” — demonstrating that, even if joking, he doesn’t know how much such aircraft cost (as the latest Joint Strike Fighters run north of $100 million each).
This came after Mr. Trump revoked the security clearance of former Central Intelligence Agency Director John O. Brennan not because he had violated the law or leaked secrets or any of a number of legitimate ways one might lose the privilege of top-secret access, but simply in retaliation for Mr. Brennan’s harsh criticism on television and social media (and perhaps to send a message to others who might be cooperating with the Russia investigation). In an official statement, the White House claimed it was done because of Mr. Brennan’s “increasingly frenzied commentary,” a description that Sarah Huckabee Sanders could easily have applied to her own boss. And then there’s the matter of “Space Force,” the comically inappropriate new “branch” of the military that President Trump expects to be blasting off by 2020 but has quickly fizzled with little ground support in Congress or among Americans.
What do all these recent missteps have in common? In each, President Trump made decisions about the military and national security in the most self-aggrandizing and least knowledgeable or insightful way possible. The notion that now, this fall or even next year offers an ideal time to roll U.S. Army tanks or Air Force missiles down Pennsylvania Avenue like the United States had just won a war or to appease some third-world dictator is simply ludicrous. Had it only cost $1, that would be one dollar too many. A recruitment push? An effort to rally support for veterans? Oh, please, administration officials had long ago made it clear what the parade was about: Mr. Trump loved the pageantry of Bastille Day last year in Paris and wanted to stage something similar outside his front door.
The cost of the parade is a red herring. Officials estimated months ago that it would be in the range of $30 million. On Friday, D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser confirmed it was $21.6 million, tweeting that she had “finally got thru to the reality star in the White House with the realities ($21.6M) of parades/events/demonstrations in Trump America (sad).” We would venture an educated guess that most Americans won’t miss the military parade. Polls conducted back in February showed little public support for such a show of power with a Quinnipiac University survey pegging opposition at about 61 percent, and three-quarters of Americans allowing that it was not a good use of taxpayer dollars.
Still, the parade foolishness would seem trivial had it been out of character. The problem is that too often this White House makes decisions on matters involving the Pentagon and the security agencies on the whims of a president who lacks expertise and deferred his own military service during the Vietnam conflict for college and bone spurs. He praises veterans at great length at his political rallies, but the future funding of veterans’ health benefits is in serious doubt, harmed, in part, by his choice to put a tax cut ahead of setting aside revenue for VA upgrades in future budgets. Meanwhile, veteran suicide rates remain well above the national average.
By revoking Mr. Brennan’s security clearance, Mr. Trump has only raised the ire of former intelligence officials, a dozen of whom signed an open letter to the president condemning his move to “stifle” free speech. Should Americans care that such “deep state” representatives are offended? They should if they’d like to see the nation avoid armed conflict or prevent the next major terrorism attack. Like it or not, the tradition of passing along knowledge and insight within the intelligence field is highly valued and not customarily so politicized. Being able to consult past CIA directors is not a resource to be taken lightly. Nor should the serious issue of military attacks against U.S. satellites — it just doesn’t require a whole new branch of the military to address it. Unless, of course, you are a president fraught with insecurity who looks at the military and national security apparatus as playthings to be paraded or shelved or dressed in cool uniforms for the sheer entertainment and ego-reinforcement of it.