Tanks but no tanks, Mr President
PUBLISHED: 16:00 15 February 2018
SIPA USA/PA Images
President Trump’s plans for a mammoth military procession would represent ‘a toxic combination of genuine alarm and mockery marching side by side’, writes PAUL CONNEW.
Let me paint you a picture. Tanks, intercontinental nuclear ballistic missile launchers and heavy artillery weapons rolling down the street, tens of thousands of troops marching, jet fighters screaming overhead, a zillion flags flying... and up on the podium taking the salute, the preening, posturing leader himself.
Pyongyang? Moscow? Beijing?
But then a sudden, sharp gust of wind and the blessed leader’s carefully-coiffed crowning glory explodes in every ego-demolishing direction, exposing his pate as naked as Hans Christian Andersen’s fabled emperor.
Ah, yes, it must be Washington DC, Pennsylvania Avenue, and maybe July 4 2018, American Independence Day or, perhaps, US Veterans Day in November? Both tricky dates as one would clash with the build-up to the mid-term elections and the other a few days after what’s likely to be a damaging set of defeats for the GOP and the Trump presidency.
Or maybe not at all?
President Donald Trump’s grand plan for a mammoth display of America’s military might is getting a ‘tanks, but no tanks’ thumbs down from so many directions – including much of the military top brass, veterans’ groups, politicians from both sides on Capitol Hill and the staunchly Democrat local authority in Washington – that it could well struggle to get off the launch pad. Even the president’s beloved Fox News hasn’t exactly come out all guns blazing in support.
A toxic combination of genuine alarm and mockery marching side by side, ignited by POTUS’s puerile order to Pentagon chiefs: “I want a parade like the one in France, only bigger and better.” So impressed, apparently, was the Great Narcissist by France’s Bastille Day parade when he stood enviously at Emmanuel Macron’s side and surveyed the tanks, gun trucks and troops marching ceremonially that he decided he “just gotta have” one too.
Whether The Donald, no great reader of history, even grasps the original significance of Bastille Day is a moot point.
Many American critics were quick to flag up that Trump’s big idea smacked more of authoritarian regimes, totalitarian states and dictatorial despots. Or, most disturbing of all, question whether that indeed constituted its essential appeal to a POTUS who has already displayed authoritarian tendencies and expressed his admiration for undemocratic ‘strongmen’ leaders like Putin, Xi Jinping, Erdogan and Duterte. There are some in the West Wing who suggest the president has a sneaking respect for North Korea’s Kim Yong Un’s iron grip on power even as he taunts him with “Little Rocket Man” and “My nuclear button’s bigger than yours”.
Powerful opposition has been building from the moment the Washington Post received a tactical ‘leak’ – almost certainly from inside a sceptical Pentagon – about the Commander-in-Chief’s edict to start secretly drawing up plans for an event he declared should “display my incredible support for America’s great service members who risk their lives every day to keep our country safe, give every American the chance to salute them... and show off America’s military strength to the world”.
Inside the Pentagon, across much of Capitol Hill and the US mainstream media, however, the dominant sentiment is that the driving force is less patriotism and more about the vanity of the populist reality TV star cast as the most powerful man on earth. The POTUS who increasingly refers to “my generals” and “my justice department”; the POTUS who last year suggested the US Constitution is “archaic”; the POTUS who wanted to be the first to have military hardware feature heavily in his Inauguration ceremony but didn’t have the power to decree it at the time.
Apart from some on the Republican right wing and a minority of military hawks, the road blocks against The Donald’s grand parade design are springing up rapidly. While diplomatically avoiding publicly opposing the president, Defence Secretary General Jim Mattis pointedly refused to use the word “parade” when reporters tried to question him.
Privately, Mattis is said to have urged Trump to shelve the idea or scale it down massively. The Defence Secretary also pointed up that the multi-million dollar cost clashes awkwardly with his own recent testimony to Congress that the US military is “overstretched and under-resourced” due to a “funding” crisis.
While some US Jewish organisations have called Trump’s Great Military Parade redolent of the personality cult/mass show of force displays favoured by Hitler and Mussolini. They aren’t alone.
Congressman Adam Smith, the senior Democrat on the House Armed Services Committee, issued a tough statement saying: “We are a nation of laws, not of one person. A military parade of this kind would also be a departure from the values of our constitutional democracy.
“In the past, we have held military parades to celebrate major national events such as the Gulf War or the end of World War Two, as achievements by the American people who fought in and supported those efforts. A military parade like this – one that unduly focuses on a single person – is what that authoritarian regimes do, not democracies.”
The verbal missiles have been flying Trump’s way from military veterans too, including from some now serving as elected politicians on both sides of Capitol Hill. A bipartisan group plans to challenge the White House on both the principle and the cost of the president’s “ultimate ego trip” and opponents are already planning counter “peace marches” if it does go ahead.
Senator Tammy Duckworth, a double-amputee Iraq War veteran, argued: “Our troops in danger overseas don’t need a show of presidential bravado, they need steady leadership, long-term funding and resources so they can stay safe while protecting and defending our nation.”
While retired Major General Paul Eaton, of the influential group Vote Vets, issued a statement saying: “Donald Trump has continually shown himself to have authoritarian tendencies, and this is just another worrisome example of that.”
Another setback came when White House Chief of Staff General Kelly, who is at least enthusiastic about the idea, found himself in the firing line on another front. The general, who Trump had nominated to be his West Wing point man on the grand parade planning, shipped heavy flak over his initial defence of Rob Porter, one of two senior White House officials forced to resign after being unmasked as wife-beaters.
The Donald is known to have phoned friends ranting about Kelly’s “mishandling” of the situation and threatening to sack him. Reliable sources suggest Kelly offered his resignation at the weekend before the president apparently beat a retreat.
A presidential strategic reverse manoeuvre was probably triggered by the background role played by Hope Hicks – Trump’s longest-serving aide and now the White House Director of Communications. Until very recently she was wife-beater Porter’s lover. Hicks is alleged to have pressed Kelly to publicly spring to Porter’s defence.
Some White House insiders suggest the president’s own stumbling response to the crisis is down to Hicks. Trump not only failed to condemn Porter directly, but praised his work and then tweeted a sideswipe at the #Metoo movement; not a smart move by a POTUS with the ‘Pussygate’ tape and sexual harassment claims by a dozen women on his misogyny count.
GOP election strategists are alarmed by polls showing Trump’s support among women hitting a record low.