Putin’s Play

By

Leonard Zwelling

            You gotta
hand it to the old KGB hand.  Sometimes it’s
the bad guys who know when to rush to the rescue.

            The
American President has made a mess of foreign policy, albeit in a very complex
part of the world, the Middle East. It is not uncommon for Americans and
Russians to get swallowed up in the political sands of that part of the globe,
never to be heard from again. So, when President Obama drew a red line in that
sand with regard to how, not how many, of his own countrymen Assad was
permitted to kill without suffering retaliatory missile strikes, threatened to
act, then balked and reached back for the group he most loves to hate,
Congress, to sanction his threat and found them less than enthusiastic because
their constituents are war weary, the former Senator from Illinois had painted
himself into an ever shrinking corner.

            Then who
should ride over the hill to save him from himself, none other than Vlad the
Putin, the shirtless bear of the former Soviet spy agency. He is going to be
our honest broker to get the Syrians to admit they even have chemical weapons (now,
they have) and then be the repository of those weapons once we can find them
all, mop them up and ship them—where? This may be very difficult now that the
Syrian elite forces have scattered the weapons widely as the Wall Street
Journal reported.

Then to add insult to injury, Putin
is moonlighting as an op-ed columnist for the NY Times admonishing the one
country that would actually let him say what he has on his mind in print. I
wonder if any Russian daily would invite President Obama to comment in equal
space. Perhaps if he gave Putin some White House cufflinks to go with the Russian
leader’s recently stolen Super Bowl ring, Putin would give Obama 15 minutes for
a public service announcement at 3 in the morning on Moscow Public TV in
between the adds for a new borscht maker and an economic space heater.

            So the
United States once again finds itself deep in a hole in the Middle East. The
President, the Congress and the American people want desperately for a way out
so that the elected government can actually pay attention to the economy, debt
ceiling, immigration, health reform and the budget deficit.

            Reminds me
of some place else where Presidential diversion is center stage and the real business at
hand has been marginalized.

            The faculty
of MD Anderson is also war weary, especially those on the clinical “front
lines” (don’t you hate the war metaphors used in academic medicine like “in the
trenches”?). Like the American people, the Anderson faculty keeps looking for
someone to lead them out of a morass many years in the making who would
actually listen to and address their concerns. Is it Dr. DePinho? Is it the
Chancellor? Where is Anderson’s Putin?

Here at Anderson we have endured
two solid years of debate about the manner in which the place is to be run, the
strategy used to guide its running, and the way it all gets paid for. We could
easily have had the same arguments years ago, but chose to ignore them under
the illusion that the faculty actually had some input into its operations before
now (it hasn’t for at least 12 years) and that we were doing fine financially
anyway, except for the random hurricane of 2008. (And you thought our troubles
of that year stemmed from the financial crisis damaging our margin-producing
portfolio? Silly).

Now we are constantly told we are
NOT doing fine even though the financials would lead one to believe that we are
making more money than ever, we are just spending too much of it on God knows
what. Sounds like America. No matter how we have improved the economy since the
2008 collapse, both at MD Anderson and in America, spending is still
out-stripping revenue.

It is very likely that the Putin
play for relevance will delay the Obama appeal for Congressional support for a
military attack and save the President from the ignominy of a frank rejection
by the House, and maybe even the Senate. It is likely that the Syrian question
will ping pong between Moscow and the UN until no one cares any more and Assad
can sequester all the chemical weapons he wishes to. Other than Obama, who
cares enough to use violence to stop him?

Ditto at MD Anderson. For all the
miserable morale survey results, the doom and gloom about the budget, the
absence of bonuses for the clinicians and the ever-expanding South Campus
research factory, there is simply no Putin equivalent to rescue the faculty. If
you believe that it will be the Chancellor—get over yourself.

The United States needs to stand
for something. It is pretty hard to know what that is. It is difficult to
ascertain from our country’s history when the brutal mistreatment of the
citizens of other countries warrants a military response from the US. It wasn’t
Auschwitz. It wasn’t Rwanda. It was sort of Kosovo. I guess it was Iraq. It was
briefly Somalia, but that worked out poorly. Our choosing sides in civil wars
often ends with us hoist on our own petard.

What are our principles and what
are our “red lines”? It’s not for me to say, but I do know that if we choose to
draw red lines, our credibility will rest on whether or not we mean it and act
appropriately.

It’s the same at Anderson except we
do have principles and we are sure of them for we all had a hand in choosing
them. They are called core values. They are Discovery, Integrity and Caring. If
you believe that they constitute a red line that when crossed to the wrong side
by leadership, some sort of corrective action is warranted, we passed that red
line 12 years ago. Because we passed that red line and nothing happened, it
should be no surprise that the current leadership should go even further past
the red line without consequences. Who holds them accountable and for what?

We have had two successive
presidents who have clearly stepped way over the integrity line and for that
matter so has the current, soon to be ex-, Executive Vice Chancellor (on the
board of a huge health insurance company).

If the Chancellor shared the
opinion that the red line of integrity has been crossed, I assume he would have
done something. The fact that he hasn’t says all that I need to hear.

Just like Lloyd Bensen knew Jack
Kennedy and indicated that Dan Quayle was no Jack Kennedy; our current
Chancellor isn’t even Vlad the Putie (W’s nickname for the androgenic Andropov
android). At least not so far.  Let’s see
what happens Wednesday.

Leonard Zwelling