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Trump’s ‘marching orders’ to the Pentagon: Plan a grand military parade

Evan Vucci)/Associated Press

President Trump’s vision of soldiers marching and tanks rolling down the boulevards of Washington is moving closer to reality in the Pentagon and White House.

By Greg Jaffe and Philip Rucker Washington Post 

WASHINGTON — President Trump’s vision of soldiers marching and tanks rolling down the boulevards of Washington is moving closer to reality in the Pentagon and White House, where officials say they have begun to plan a grand military parade later this year showcasing the might of America’s armed forces.

Trump has long mused publicly and privately about wanting such a parade, but a Jan. 18 meeting between Trump and top generals in the Pentagon’s tank — a room reserved for top secret discussions — marked a tipping point, according to two officials briefed on the planning.

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Surrounded by the military’s highest ranking officials, including Defense Secretary Jim Mattis and Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Joe Dunford, 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.’’

American shows of military strength don’t come cheap. The cost of shipping Abrams tanks and high-tech hardware to Washington could run in the millions, and military officials said it was unclear how they would pay for it.

A White House official familiar with the planning described the discussions as ‘‘brainstorming’’ and said nothing is settled. ‘‘Right now there’s really no meat on the bones,’’ said the official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to describe internal discussions.

Still, the official said Trump is determined to have a parade. ‘‘The president wants to do something that highlights the service and sacrifice of the military and have a unifying moment for the country,’’ the official said.

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The inspiration for Trump’s push is last year’s Bastille Day celebration in Paris, which the president attended as a guest of French President Emmanuel Macron. Trump was awestruck by the tableau of uniformed French troops marching down Avenue des Champs-Elysees with military tanks, armored vehicles, gun trucks and carriers — complete with F-16 fighter jets flying over the Arc de Triomphe and painting the sky with streaks of blue, white and red smoke for the colors of the French flag.

Aboard Air Force One en route home from Paris last July, aides said Trump told them he was dazzled by the French display and said he wanted one at home.

It was still on his mind two months later when he met with Macron on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly in New York.

‘‘It was one of the greatest parades I’ve ever seen,’’ Trump told reporters. ‘‘It was two hours on the button, and it was military might, and I think a tremendous thing for France and for the spirit of France.’’

Seated next to Macron, Trump added: ‘‘We’re going to have to try to top it.’’

Several administration officials said the parade planning began in recent weeks and involves White House chief of staff John Kelly, but cautioned that it is in the preliminary stages. District of Columbia officials said they have not been notified of parade plans.

A date has not been selected, although officials said Trump would like to tie the parade to a patriotic holiday. Officials are weighing weather patterns as well as competing events, such as the massive annual Independence Day celebration on the Mall.

Trump officials had discussed Memorial Day on May 28, and July 4, but the Pentagon prefers Veterans Day on Nov. 11 — in part because it would coincide with 100th anniversary of the victorious end of World War I and therefore be less associated with the president and politics. ‘‘That’s what everyone is hoping,’’ said the military official.

It is unclear what role Trump would play, whether he may perhaps serve as a grandmaster or observe the spectacle from a reviewing stand.

The location is still being discussed, though Trump has said that he would like it to proceed along Pennsylvania Avenue, which links the Capitol and the White House. It would be the same route as Trump’s inaugural parade and pass by his family’s show piece: the Trump International Hotel.

Even before he was sworn in as president, Trump was dreaming of America’s war machine on display for the country and the world in front of the White House or Capitol.

‘‘We’re going to show the people as we build up our military,’’ Trump said in an interview with The Washington Post before his inauguration. ‘‘ . . . That military may come marching down Pennsylvania Avenue. That military may be flying over New York City and Washington, D.C., for parades. I mean, we’re going to be showing our military.’’

But big military parades - even those launched with the best of intentions - carry some risks and troublesome historical echoes.

With a few exceptions — such as former president George H.W. Bush’s 1991 parade down Constitution Avenue celebrating victory in the Persian Gulf War — presidents have avoided displays of military hardware that are more associated in the American mind with the Soviet Union’s Red Square celebrations or, more recently, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un’s efforts to show off his Taepodong missiles.