Late Addition to Donald Trump’s July 4 Wish List: Tanks
The tanks will join an airborne display of the nation’s firepower, including a flight of Air Force One over Washington and a performance by the Navy’s Blue Angels jets.
The US President said that the tanks will be like no other because of the 'incredible' and 'brand new' military equipment. (Image: AP)
Washington: President Donald Trump said on Monday that the Pentagon would put military tanks on display Thursday in Washington as part of his plans to turn the annual Fourth of July celebration in the nation’s capital into a salute to the country’s military prowess.
The tanks will join an airborne display of the nation’s firepower, including a flight of Air Force One over Washington and a performance by the Navy’s Blue Angels jets. Trump, who is to speak at the celebration, has requested that the chiefs for the Army, Navy, Air Force and Marines stand next to him as aircraft from each of their services fly overhead and their respective hymns play on loudspeakers.
“It’ll be like no other — it’ll be special, and I hope a lot of people come,” Trump told reporters in the Oval Office. “We have some incredible equipment, military equipment on display — brand new. And we’re very proud of it.”
Trump’s Fourth of July homage to the military sets up a cultural clash between the Republican president and a mostly Democratic city that has for decades celebrated America’s independence with almost no public participation by presidents of either party. The City Council for the District of Columbia, which was not happy with Trump’s decision, posted on Twitter that “we have said it before, and we’ll say it again: Tanks, but no tanks.”
The president’s decision also reflects the divide between Trump and the forces at his command. Top military officials have expressed deep concern about letting the armed forces be used by the president to advance a political agenda and earlier resisted his efforts for a military parade on Veterans Day.
Pentagon officials have long been reluctant to parade tanks, missiles and other weapons through the nation’s capital like the authoritarian leaders of North Korea and China. They say the United States, which has the world’s most powerful military and spends more on defense than the seven next largest military spenders combined — China, Saudi Arabia, India, France, Russia, Britain and Germany — does not need to broadcast its strength.
But Trump believes that the inclusion of tanks and other weapons in the July 4 celebration, which was first reported by The Washington Post, would help to transform the capital city’s annual event into the kind of military celebration he has long wanted.
After watching the Bastille Day parade in 2017 in Paris, Trump said that “we may do something like that on July 4 in Washington down Pennsylvania Avenue.” He later raised the idea of a military parade on Veterans Day but abandoned it in the face of public opposition from city officials, private dissent from the Pentagon and a price tag of more than $90 million.
It was not clear how much the use of the military would cost July 4.
Trump said that “brand-new Abrams tanks” and “brand-new Sherman tanks” would be on display Thursday. The M1 Abrams tank was used during the Gulf War and is still in use by the military. The M4 Sherman was used by the United States during World War II and the Korean War, and is no longer in active service.
“You’ve got to be pretty careful with the tanks because the roads have a tendency not to like to carry heavy tanks,” Trump said, acknowledging the damage that such heavy vehicles could do to Washington’s transportation network. “So we have to put them in certain areas.”
The president did not say where those areas would be.
Pentagon officials declined to comment Monday as they wrestled with how to accommodate the president’s tank request only a few days before the event. Among the logistical concerns was how to transport tanks that weigh more than 60 tons into the popular downtown area where tourists gather to see the monuments. Moving and guarding the tanks would require staffing at a time when many troops are at home for the holiday.
Another problem is that Arlington Memorial Bridge, which spans the Potomac River and connects Arlington National Cemetery and the Lincoln Memorial, might not be able to hold the weight.
It was also unclear Monday where the tanks would come from.
The closest Abrams tanks appeared to be a 350-mile drive away at the 150th Cavalry Regiment, a unit of the West Virginia National Guard in Bluefield, West Virginia. If the military wanted to use assets under federal control, it would most likely have to bring tanks from the Marines’ 2nd Tank Battalion at Camp Lejeune in North Carolina.
Either way, the tanks would have to be transported by rail or flatbed truck.
Trump is scheduled to deliver his Fourth of July speech from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, becoming the first president in decades to participate in the annual Independence Day event. Trump announced the speech via tweet in February.
“We will be having one of the biggest gatherings in the history of Washington, D.C., on July 4,” he wrote. “It will be called ‘A Salute To America’ and will be held at the Lincoln Memorial. Major fireworks display, entertainment and an address by your favorite President, me!”
Critics of the president say his involvement amounts to a partisan hijacking of the Fourth of July event for his own political purposes.
“He’s taking an American, a national holiday and making it about himself. And that is fundamentally wrong,” said Rep. Gerald E. Connolly, D-Va., whose constituents live just a short drive from downtown Washington.
Connolly said some of his constituents who normally celebrate in Washington may choose to attend parades and fireworks in other parts of the metropolitan area this year.
Washingtonian Magazine offered some suggestions in an article titled, “Avoid Trump’s Fireworks This Fourth of July and Celebrate in These Small Towns Instead.” Among the options it offered: marching bands, pie-eating contests and weenie roasts in a half-dozen cities well outside Washington.
But supporters of the president scoffed at the idea that Trump’s involvement is a reason for concern. Newt Gingrich, a former House speaker and vocal Trump booster, said the president should have the right to celebrate the Fourth of July as he sees fit.
“What kind of idiot do you have to be to complain that the president wants to celebrate the founding of our country?” Gingrich said, adding he supports the idea of having tanks and other military vehicles at the celebration to honor the country’s military.
“Other than the fact they have to pay to fix the streets, who cares?” Gingrich said.
Washington has hosted a Fourth of July celebration on the National Mall for decades, often bringing musicians and other entertainers for a performance at the Capitol before a fireworks display over the Washington Monument. This year’s celebration will include a longer fireworks show after two companies offered their services for free, a donation that officials said is worth about $750,000.
A parade down Constitution Avenue takes place in the afternoon and will include marching bands, fife and drum corps, floats, military units, giant balloons and drill teams, according to the Interior Department, which oversees the events.
This year’s concert will be hosted by John Stamos, who starred in ABC’s “Full House” sitcom. The entertainment will include singer Carole King, who will be joined by the cast of the Broadway musical “Beautiful.” And Big Bird, Elmo and Grover — of “Sesame Street” fame — will also perform, officials said.
Last week, King tweeted a cartoon to say that she was not performing at Trump’s event. “To be clear — I am appearing in ‘A Capitol Fourth,’ ” the cartoon said, adding, “I am not participating in T’s political rally.”
The Federal Aviation Administration said that it will suspend normal operations at Reagan National Airport during the president’s remarks and the flyovers by the military aircraft. It will also close the airspace over the capital during the fireworks displays.
Such airspace closures, which disrupt normal flight operations, happen occasionally, officials said. A similar closure took place when historic planes took part in a flyover of the National Mall in 2015.
City officials said traffic on the roads in Washington is likely to be snarled throughout the day because of numerous road closures.
Michael D. Shear, Thomas Gibbons-Neff and John Ismay c.2019 New York Times News Service
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