Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg was a reassuring presence over the weekend, keeping New Yorkers informed about preparations for the approaching storm in his characteristically no-drama, we’ll-get-through-this voice.
Clyde Haberman offers his take on the news.
Does that sound harsh? It does to our own ears. But we’re simply applying the same standard that Mr. Bloomberg uses for other leaders. He has a way of finding them unworthy of praise for even their most critical decisions.
This tendency is reinforced by the publication of an interview with him in the new issue of The Atlantic magazine. In an eyebrow-arching exchange, the mayor was asked if President Obama deserved credit for ordering the raid that killed Osama bin Laden last year.
No way, he replied.
“That’s like giving Harry Truman credit for dropping the bomb: any president would’ve pushed that button, any president would’ve dropped the bomb,” Mr. Bloomberg said. He was referring, of course, to the American atomic bombs dropped on Japan to speed the end of World War II — first on Hiroshima on Aug. 6, 1945, then on Nagasaki on Aug. 9. Japan announced its readiness to surrender on Aug. 15.
As cosmic decisions go, hitting your enemy with the most devastating weapon known to humankind would seem at the top of the list. (Whether one should get “credit” for it is an argument best left for another time.) But Mr. Bloomberg was more impressed by other actions taken by President Truman. Not every leader, he said, would have relieved Gen. Douglas MacArthur of command during the Korean War or integrated the Army or approved the Marshall Plan to help rebuild a war-shattered Europe.
“But dropping the bomb, no,” he said, “and I don’t think, in this case, Osama bin Laden.”
The evidence shows, though, that not every president would have surely ordered the Navy SEALs raid that sent Bin Laden to wherever he is now. President George W. Bush had no such mission on his radar, and in 2007 Mitt Romney said, “It’s not worth moving heaven and earth and spending billions of dollars just trying to catch one person.” He did add, however, that he supported going after the entire “Islamic jihad movement.”
Even at the highest ranks of the Obama administration, some had doubts about the operation, including whether Bin Laden was in the house in Abbottabad, Pakistan, that was the target. This was hardly a gimme, said Mark Bowden, author of a new book called “The Finish: The Killing of Osama bin Laden” (Atlantic Monthly Press).
“It seems to me a lot of presidents might have been more inclined to take the less risky option of firing a missile or, in the case of Vice President Biden, waiting until they had more information to be certain the target was really Bin Laden,” Mr. Bowden told Azi Paybarah, a senior writer for the Web site Capital New York. “President Obama made the decision to take the riskiest course.”
He called Mr. Bloomberg’s remarks “kind of small-minded,” adding that “any fair-minded person, it seems to me, would give Obama credit for having handled this well.”
As for whether anyone sitting in the White House would have dropped the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombs, that is certainly questionable. (For that matter, so is the matter of whether the bombings alone hastened the end of combat. Some historians are inclined to credit the Soviet Union’s entry into the war against Japan on Aug. 8, 1945.)
Dwight D. Eisenhower, Truman’s successor as president, said he’d been informed about bomb preparations in July 1945, when he was supreme commander of Allied forces in Europe. Eisenhower wrote in his memoirs that he had told the secretary of war, Henry L. Stimson, that he had “grave misgivings.” Among his reasons, he said, was “my belief that Japan was already defeated and that dropping the bomb was completely unnecessary.”
Even the Harry S. Truman Library and Museum, on its Web site, says that while Truman chose the nuclear course, he had “many alternatives at his disposal to ending the war.” Clearly implied is that other leaders might have decided differently.
So as eager as we are to credit Mr. Bloomberg for his calm handling of preparations for Hurricane Sandy, it’s hard to see how to do so and stay true to the test of leadership that he himself set.
E-mail Clyde Haberman: firstname.lastname@example.org