It was Winston Churchill who first used that term, “the crunch” in that way. It means, of course, that crisis when a leader has to make a judgment. It is when lives, perhaps millions of them, hang on the outcome of the decision the leader makes.
Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower faced such a crunch on June 5, 1944 . Storms had already delayed for 24 hours his long-planned invasion of Normandy. There appeared to be a momentary break in the weather. Could he afford to go now and risk the largest landing ever being disrupted and defeated by severe storms on the beaches? Or, could he keep tens of thousands of heavily armed and ready men on board their ships, getting sicker and weaker by the hour? In that crunch, General Eisenhower listened to all the competing claims, all the contradictory advice. Then he said quietly: “OK. Let’s go.”
President Kennedy faced his own crunch in October, 1962. Should he invade Cuba and battle the Soviet troops who were manning missiles at bases around the island country? Should he first bomb those missile sites and risk World War III ? Should he blockade Fidel Castro’s captive nation, knowing that under international law, a blockade is regarded as an act of war?
John F. Kennedy knew his information was correct about the Soviet offensive missiles that Kremlin boss Khrushchev had placed in Cuba . ”Clandestinely placed,in Cuber,” as the Harvard man termed it. Photos from U-2 spy planes left him no doubt.
JFK met that test. He imposed not a blockade, but a quarantine on Cuba . Diplomats are still trying to figure out that one. That quarantine meant that no more Soviet freighters would be permitted to enter Cuban waters without first being inspected by U.S. Navy warships.
Kennedy knew that the presidency was the lonely pinnacle where he and he alone was responsible for making the decisions. In the crunch. “I do not shrink from this responsibility,” he told campaign rallies, “I welcome it.”
President Obama has faced the crunch several times in several ways. First, of course, he issued an Executive Order to close the U.S. detention facility at Guantánamo Bay . Once again, a president was tested in Cuba.
This time in the crunch, Mr. Obama failed miserably. He signed the order and assured the world that Gitmo would close in one year. That was three years ago.
I do not believe he should ever have signed that order. I think that was wrong policy. But having signed it, he gave the world not a profile in courage, but an example of fecklessness in his inability to make good his order.