The Trump administration is planning an unprecedented display of American military might on the Fourth of July, something at least one veteran says inappropriately blurs the line between the military and politics.
The Pentagon is scrambling to arrange the military hardware President Trump wants for Thursday's "Salute to America" celebration in Washington, D.C. There will be tanks, helicopters and a stealth-bomber flyover. Trump's planned speech will also make him the first president since Harry Truman to speak on the National Mall on the Fourth of July.
Paul Rieckhoff, an Iraq War veteran and founder of Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, tells Here & Now the proceedings fall disturbingly outside the norm for the U.S.
"This is not what we do. This is not North Korea. This is not Iran," Rieckhoff says. "We don't put our military on display in what is very, very much a political event."
Trump reportedly admired the military parade he witnessed in France on Bastille Day in 2017, and asked the Pentagon a few months later to explore planning a similar one in the U.S. A parade was then set for Veterans Day in 2018, but later called off, with Trump citing "ridiculously high" costs and local government red tape. Officials looked ahead to 2019 instead.
"This is not what we do. This is not North Korea. This is not Iran."Paul Rieckhoff
While many people, including Rieckhoff, say they are troubled by the prospect of putting on such a seemingly out-of-character display of clout, others — like Air Force veteran Ron Moeller — say it's been done before, though not on July Fourth. There was a major military parade in the nation's capital to mark the end of the Gulf War in 1991, for instance.
"This is not such a big deal," Moeller told Politico.
The White House insists the event will be purely patriotic and steer clear of partisan politics. Supporters add it will serve to celebrate America's military families in a more public way.
Rieckhoff says the administration should instead celebrate those families by giving service members participating in the event the day off.
"You don't salute the military by dragging them out into concrete in the July heat, standing in dress uniforms, for what has really become a display not of our military prowess, but of political pageantry," he says. "This doesn't seem to be about the military, and it doesn't seem to be a celebration of America. It seems to be a celebration of this administration and even of this president himself."
The parade's critics also point to its expense: It costs $122,000 an hour just to fly the B-2 bomber, for example, which is set to be used in flyovers. Estimates for the called-off parade Trump wanted on Veterans Day fell in the $90 million range.
Members of Congress are awaiting a total cost tally for Thursday's display — but say they anticipate a hefty price tag.
There are numerous ways that kind of money could be put to better use to help veterans, Rieckhoff says, as former service members grapple with high suicide rates and other issues upon their return home from conflicts abroad.
"We can talk about ways to reform [Veterans Affairs] or to focus on unemployment. But it is much bigger than just the money," he says. "This is really a demonstration in arrogance — and on some levels, logistical incompetence. So let's be grateful it's only a parade and not a military invasion that these guys are running, because it's been a total debacle."
This segment aired on July 3, 2019.