Is the Pentagon Endorsing Trump’s War on Democratic Institutions?

The president’s plans for a military parade have sinister implications.

Photo Credit: Flickr

President Trump’s proposed military parade is the final test for the proverbial "adults in the room." So far, they are flunking.

Those who continue to hope that Secretary of Defense James Mattis and other senior military officers might check the delusional decision-making of President Trump can only read the reporting of the Washington Post, with a pang of disillusion.

President Trump wants a military parade in Washington, and the uniformed officer corps wants to give it to him. The emperor who has no moral clothes wants a ceremony to celebrate the military—and his nakedness. The generals, it seems, will oblige. Your new clothes look splendid, sir.

The Washington Post reports:

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."

Cue the photos of Trump beaming at France’s pomp and circumstance last July, and photos of dispiriting dictatorial displays in communist Moscow and Nazi Germany.

Following Orders

As good military men, Mattis and Dunford cannot refuse their marching orders—not if they want to keep their jobs.

Instead, a “military official" has leaked their predicament to the press. You can tell from the timing of the story that the generals have not exactly rushed to obey. Trump issued his command nearly three weeks ago.

We can be sure there's been some foot-dragging in the barracks, and there will be more.

A loyal lieutenant would say (and maybe some have): Sir, that’s a non-functional concept with SNAFU implications that needs more staff work.

A correct colonel might add: There’s no cause for such a celebration right now, sir, not with us dropping bombs on seven countries.

In a more candid moment, a wise general would, off the record, remind the enfant terrible president of his scathing comments about the Bush family and the lies that led to the invasion of Iraq. The wise general might recall another military ceremony demanded by a proud president, who some Americans admired as a strong leader and others regarded as an arrogant fool.

President George W. Bush’s “Mission Accomplished” celebration aboard a U.S. aircraft carrier in May 2003 did not do the U.S. military proud. It was a victory celebration honoring deceit and incompetence, and it became an enduring symbol of an unpopular, losing war. Indeed, it confirmed that the commander-in-chief was a fool and so were his generals.

Forfeiting Their Epaulets

It is past time for the alleged adults, the generals, to take a stand against a lawless president or forfeit their epaulets. To indulge the president’s whim for a French-style parade is, at best, abetting delusions of grandeur.

Or, harder question: Are Mattis and Dunford implicitly joining, celebrating and promoting Trump’s ongoing war of attrition against American democratic institutions such as the free press and the rule of law? Both Mattis and Dunford know that Trump has threatened to lock up his critics—and there are hundreds of thousands of good soldiers who did not vote for the president in the armed forces.

Trump has threatened to shut down critical news organizations, whose freedom of speech the military is pledged to defend.

Trump has bragged about violating sexual assault laws, laws that are essential to military camaraderie and discipline.

And they know, or should get to know, the streets of Washington. The District of Columbia is home to the National Defense University and thousands of military personnel. But there is no precedent or demand for a large-scale military parade in the capital when the nation is at war. And don't forget, only 4 percent of voters in Washington, D.C., supported Trump.

This parade might mobilize the biggest anti-Trump demonstration yet. Trump would not dare show his face in any of the city’s eight wards. From Foggy Bottom, Chevy Chase and Petworth to Congress Heights and the Navy Yard, he will be unmercifully jeered if he tries. The message from the streets of Washington is going to be: A military that enables a would-be tyrant's pompous display will discredit itself.

What's the Message?

George W. Bush later admitted the “Misson Accomplished” banner was a mistake. "It sent the wrong message," he said. "We were trying to say something differently, but nevertheless, it conveyed a different message."

Mattis and Dunford are sending a very clear message. It’s the George Dubya Hour. The folly of Bush has taught the generals nothing about the folly of Trump. String up the banners and strike up the band. It's time for a parade. “Mission Accomplished: America Is Great Again.”

There is a double message from the so-called adults in the room in Washington: We are going to celebrate a self-aggrandizing, autocratic fool. And listen for it, it's coming, sotto voce and dangerous: We’re just following orders.

Jefferson Morley is AlterNet's Washington correspondent. He is the author of The Ghost: The Secret Life of CIA Spymaster James Jesus Angleton (St. Martin's Press).

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