President Trump values few things more than the might of the American military. Since taking office he has sought to accumulate fighter jets, warships and other hardware, and he’s long sought to show off this billion-dollar toy collection with an extravagant parade down the middle of Washington, D.C. An event was scheduled to take place on Veterans Day, but cost estimates have soared. On Friday morning, the president announced on Twitter that he has canceled the parade, blaming local politicians he claims are trying to squeeze the administration.
The local politicians who run Washington, D.C. (poorly) know a windfall when they see it. When asked to give us a price for holding a great celebratory military parade, they wanted a number so ridiculously high that I cancelled it. Never let someone hold you up! I will instead…
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) August 17, 2018
….attend the big parade already scheduled at Andrews Air Force Base on a different date, & go to the Paris parade, celebrating the end of the War, on November 11th. Maybe we will do something next year in D.C. when the cost comes WAY DOWN. Now we can buy some more jet fighters!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) August 17, 2018
D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser responded to the president’s criticism by tweeting that she “finally got thru to the reality star in the White House with the realities ($21.6M) of parades/events/demonstrations in Trump America.” The $21.6 million figure cited by Bowser only represents how much the city would have to pay for the parade, which CNBC reported on Thursday would in total set the government back to the tune of $92 million.
Trump had long teased the idea of a military parade, but first proposed the idea in earnest last September while speaking to reporters next to French President Emmanuel Macron. The president referenced his experience attending France’s Bastille Day parade in July, which he called “one of the greatest” he’s ever seen. America needed to “top” it, Trump said. In January, he ordered the Department of Defense to get to work planning the event, and the tank gears were set in motion. “The marching orders were: I want a parade like the one in France,” a military official told the Washington Post in February, noting that it was “being worked at the highest levels of the military.”
The D.C. legislature didn’t take kindly to the news.
Tanks but No Tanks! https://t.co/jMbmumcfFy
— Council of DC (@councilofdc) February 7, 2018
Federal legislators weren’t thrilled, either. “I think confidence is silent and insecurity is loud,” Sen. John Kennedy (R-LA) told reporters. “America is the most powerful country in all of human history. You don’t need to show it off.” Other lawmakers went so far as to send letters to Defense Secretary James Mattis. “At a time of war, with American service members serving in harm’s way, such a parade seems to be inappropriate and wasteful,” read one missive from Reps. Dick Durbin (D-IL), Jack Reed (D-RI), Gary Peters (D-MI) and Patrick Leahy (D-VT). “Every penny of the millions of dollars that the parade would cost and every second of the tens of thousands of personnel hours its execution would require, should be devoted to the most essential missions of the Department of Defense — protecting the American people and our security interests.”
Mattis was undeterred. In March, the Pentagon sent a memo to the Joint Chiefs of Staff outlining a rough plan for the parade, which would take place on Veterans Day and celebrate the 100th anniversary of the end of World War I. Estimates of the event’s cost ranged from $10 to $30 million. By July, the number settled at $12 million, although officials noted this was only a planning figure that was subject to change. The $12 million estimate was released around the same time Trump met with Kim Jong-un and canceled joint military exercises with South Korea. The president rationalized the decision by citing the exorbitant cost of the exercises, although the Pentagon later told reporters they only cost around $14 million.
CNBC reported on Thursday that $50 million of the $92 million it would cost to put on the parade would be footed by the Pentagon, with the rest being covered by agencies like the Department of Homeland Security, according to to a Department of Defense official with firsthand knowledge of the planning. Defense Secretary Mattis was not pleased with the leak, telling reporters that whoever provided the number was “probably smoking something.” A few hours after the report was published, however, the Pentagon announced it was postponing the event until 2019. Though a reason was not given, it was almost certainly due to the ballooning cost. National security reporter Kate Brannan tweeted Thursday afternoon that Chief of Staff John Kelly was “freaking out” about the parade’s price tag, while also breaking down some of the reasons it grew from $12 to just under $100 million.
Part of the internal debate around the parade is how the non-DOD agencies involved (DC police, the National Park Service, etc.) are going to pay for their part of it.
— Kate Brannen (@K8brannen) August 16, 2018
The president’s decision to one-up the Pentagon by canceling the event outright isn’t surprising. As we’ve seen plenty of times throughout the course of his presidency, Trump is a big fan of the “you can’t quit because you’re fired” tactic when dealing with any sort of rebuke. Last August, he announced he was disbanding his business advisory council after a number of CEOs bowed out following the president’s comments about the good people “on both sides” of the Unite the Right protest in Charlottesville. When a North Korean official said in May that he was going to ask Kim Jong-un to reconsider meeting with Trump, Trump went ahead and canceled the summit. The two nations were ultimately able to work it out, mostly to the delight of Kim. Trump has also nixed plans to host multiple championship-winning sports teams from the White House after they’ve expressed reservations about visiting, most recently the Philadelphia Eagles and the Golden State Warriors. (Technically, he disinvited the NBA champs without ever extending an official invitation in the first place.)
Though the parade won’t take place this year, Trump left the door open for 2019, which is essentially all the Pentagon announced on Thursday. In the meantime, he’ll head to France on November 11th for the Remembrance Day parade, which should give him ample time to catch up with Macron, his “good friend.” Politico reported on Monday that Trump has a “bizarre” fascination with calling the French president, usually to talk about nothing in particular. “He wanted to talk to him constantly,” a former national security official said. “Macron would be like: ‘Hey, what are we talking about?’ These are very busy people. You don’t just call to check in.”
As he tweeted Friday morning, the president plans to buy some new fighter jets with the $92 million that now won’t be spent on the parade. F-35s, which the president has tweeted about multiple times, cost $94.3 million a pop.