Tactic Or Strategy: Missiles Into Syria, DePinho Out Of Office


Leonard Zwelling

Any dramatic decision by a leader is immediately scrutinized for its meaning.

This is certainly the case with President Trump’s latest foreign policy actions in which he sent 59 missiles into the Syrian air base from which a sarin gas attack on Syria’s people was launched by President Assad. Is Trump reneging on his America First campaign message because he now realizes the world is a complicated place in which America must act as a beacon of hope, or did he just get angry and play with the available toys at his military’s disposal? This is an important question.

In several areas of concern, North Korea, Iran, and Yemen to be specific, the United States could be challenged with threats to its foreign policy goals or its domestic integrity. While it is sometimes hard to connect the imminent threat that sarin gas in Syria poses to the US, its acquisition by ISIS is a clear worry for Americans at home, and if Mr. Trump wants to prevent an act of terrorism on American soil from happening, he may well have to get more aggressive in foreign lands. It remains to be seen how the world will interpret the cruise missile attack. It is equally unclear how Mr. Trump will follow up on that attack. Is it a one off act of petulance or the beginning of a new American role in the world? Clearly the guarantee by the Russians that all poison gas was out of Syria was baloney. Don’t look to Moscow for help. We shall see.

The forced resignation of Dr. DePinho is also an event that will test the leadership of the UT System, in particular Chancellor McRaven.

Is this the start of true shared governance at MD Anderson and the re-emergence of the MD Anderson faculty as the prominent force to fulfill the mission of the cancer center (as opposed to the bean counters and technology transfer gurus) or is this just the Chancellor running out of patience with DePinho? Will the Regents now replace DePinho with another test tube wielding putative entrepreneur of dubious quality? Or will they return to first principles and get a president who is a real cancer doctor to run the place who understands the mission and the core values and lives by them?

Sonia Melo case: PhD advisor Esteller sham-investigated, postdoc PI Kalluri with $ 80Mio COI

I say the strategy is unclear because one of DePinho’s star appointments, Raghu Kalluri, ought to be under investigation for research misconduct according to the link above. Is he? Is anyone at MD Anderson examining the actual quality of the research generated by the FORDs (Friends of Ron DePinho)? Does anyone Care that what is Discovered is done with Integrity or not?

What about the caliber of the Executive Vice Presidents that DePinho left behind? They seem to be still in place yet surely they were as instrumental to the failure of DePinho as the great man was himself. They too ought to be removed from office so they can do no more harm. If there were ever weapons of mass destruction within the MD Anderson hierarchy, the troika of Executive Vice Presidents represents a true threat.

So what will it be?

Is the removal of DePinho just a one off? Is it like some think the Syrian attack by Trump was—a big nothing? Was it a mere tactic to quell the criticism elicited by the television pictures of choking kids? Or is it the beginning of a new dawn—a real strategy?

Only time will tell. If Mr. Trump decides the North Korean threat has risen to the level that the Syrian gas attacks were, and he bombs the sites at which the North Koreans store their nuclear weapons, we will know he means business. So will China.

If the Chancellor rapidly appoints current faculty to stabilize morale and supplants the current Chief Financial Officer, Provost, and Chief Medical Officer, we will know the Chancellor has heard the faculty’s pleas and aims at making things better—now.

If he leaves all of these people in place and waits until a new president is named, probably at least a year from now, morale is likely to deteriorate further and the bump up he got from having DePinho leave will be squandered. A new strategy is needed, not just a tactic to calm the masses.

This is a test. Let’s see who passes.

Leonard Zwelling