What Admiral McRaven Could Learn From President Trump


Leonard Zwelling

Readers of this blog know that I am no fan of Donald Trump. That being said, his decision to send cruise missiles into a Syrian air base from which raids were putatively launched that resulted in the use of Sarin gas on Syrian citizens was both a courageous and measured response to a true outrage.

Mr. Trump had been highly critical of any talk by President Obama to intervene in the Syrian civil war. That war, which has more sides than an episode of Dallas, has raged on as Obama left the scene and Trump entered. In his first (OK, second if you count Yemen) foray into the military extension of foreign policy, Mr. Trump has impressed with both his decision to use force and the limited manner in which the military executed the president’s command. Early assessments of damage indicate that no non-Syrians were killed in the attack—most importantly no Russians.

The usual suspects objected to the American aggression—Iran, Russia. Our allies in Europe and the Middle East backed the American attack. But, so far, it appears that the Trump action was both effective locally in destroying the site from which the Sarin attacks were launched and globally in sending an unambiguous message to President Assad of Syria. Both North Korea and Iran were similarly put on notice. America will act with force and do so alone if need be.

The message was simple. You use weapons of mass destruction against innocents and there will be a price for you to pay. President Trump was decisive, clear and definitive. To be honest, it’s about time someone in the White House acted like that in the face of true evil.

My suspicions are that Mr. Trump watched the havoc that rained down on the children of Syria on TV and had had enough of American inaction. Furthermore, Hillary Clinton anticipated the action by saying that this attack was exactly what she would have done as well.

How about that? The two rivals for the 2016 presidency finally agree on something.

Talk about agreement, it is reasonable to assume that the vast majority of the faculty of MD Anderson have spent at least the last two years agreeing that a new president was needed at MD Anderson. Despite this obvious fact, the Chancellor, Executive Vice Chancellor and Board of Regents saw things in another light. They repeatedly backed Dr. DePinho’s continued service and even in the end, Dr. DePinho “resigned” rather than be fired as ought to have been the case. After all, how many leaders of American oncology had Dr. DePinho fired? Surely he deserved the same fate, but was spared the ignominy of dismissal by being allowed to quit. This was a major error by the Chancellor and showed a lack of decisiveness and resolve. More importantly, it showed a tin ear to the wants and needs of the faculty of MD Anderson and maybe a bit too much sensitivity to the desires of the MD Anderson Board of Visitors who have no standing of any kind in influencing the internal activities of the cancer center. The Board of Visitors is the boosters club. They are prominent citizens and friends of MD Anderson whose generosity and support are both appreciated and optional in fulfilling the mission of MD Anderson.

Everyone needs to do his or her job.

The Chancellor and Vice Chancellor have primary responsibility for the well-being of MD Anderson and its most valuable asset, the faculty. The Board of Regents must oversee the actions and performance of the Chancellor, Vice Chancellor and institutional presidents. The Board of Visitors may be asked for advice, but the opinions of its members should never be confused with that of the Regents or Chancellors, let alone Anderson’s own leadership, even if it is flawed. The Board of Visitors is no board at all. It has been used by past presidents as a political and financial support system. Fine. That’s all it should be. That the Board of Visitors supports a flawed president is no reason to maintain that president in office.

If the UT System wants a real board to oversee MD Anderson, it should appoint one. The Board of Visitors is not it.

In the judgment of the current President of the United States, the time had arrived to take unilateral action against horrendous behavior by the Syrian dictator. I am sure that many people had the ear of Mr. Trump and he had to weigh many choices before deciding to strike. He listened. He acted. Good for him. Good for America.

It took the Chancellor many years to act appropriately and force the resignation of Dr. DePinho. I have no doubt that he eventually had had enough and pulled whatever trigger he had to to get DePinho gone. But it took too long. It cost MD Anderson millions and many great faculty left. The Chancellor might think about emulating the decision making of President Trump. And if Mr. Trump does, as is being forecasted, dump Mr. Priebus and Mr. Bannon, then the Chancellor ought to look hard at the rest of the remaining DePinho team and make changes, too.

If you can take out Bin Laden, Ron DePinho shouldn’t have been such a challenge. The Chancellor and the Regents surely knew where DePinho was and should have acted much sooner. Now the Chancellor needs to finish the job.

Leonard Zwelling