Do Something—Or Not

Do Something—Or Not


Leonard Zwelling

In a thoughtful opinion piece in The New York Times on Saturday, April 14, Emma Ashford of the Cato Institute points out that leadership has a bias toward doing things rather than not doing them. As an example she uses the latest bombing of Syrian targets by Mr. Trump. There is no question that these missiles did something to everything that they hit, but it is less clear that they improved the situation on the ground for most Syrians or, for that matter, any Americans. She points out that the Obama Administration restrained itself when put in a similar situation and was able to negotiate an agreement that led to the cessation of chemical attacks for at least a brief period of time. Clearly the last Trump attack did no good at all. Ms. Ashford also points out that the restraint demonstrated by former President Obama may have stemmed from his lack thereof in Libya a few years before. This incursion led to the downfall of Qaddafi, but a huge migrant problem in the whole of Europe. Unintended consequences can be a bitch.

You would think after the disasters of Vietnam, Afghanistan and Iraq, the U.S. leadership might consider doing nothing when nothing good can come out of doing something. Alas, this is rarely the case. People (and it is usually men) in positions of power feel compelled to action when sitting by and watching for a few rounds might be the best course of inaction.

There has been some concern that Dr. Pisters has yet to appoint any major leaders to positions of authority in his MD Anderson administration. This blog has certainly wondered when this might occur, but perhaps Dr. Pisters has learned a lesson that Mr. Trump has not. When it comes to strategic decisions, patience is more important than the illusion of activity. Activity can be Brownian motion and not at all productive.

MD Anderson seems to be doing much better since the exit of the DePinho crowd even if some of the FORDs still linger here and there. They will be gone soon enough, I suspect. Now, after careful consideration
of what the needs of the institution are, Dr. Pisters will be identifying talented men and women who can make the vision that he will articulate a reality.

This may well prove to be wise indeed.

While Dr. Pisters’ predecessors did assign people vast responsibilities, the success of those assignees was highly variable, particularly in the DePinho Administration. Most of those “Executive VPs” are gone. MD Anderson needs a clean start and I think Dr. Pisters’ reluctance to rush into any decisions just to do something may pay off. At least, I am going to imagine that until otherwise proven wrong.

I cannot see what Mr. Trump is going to get out of blowing stuff up in Syria. If President Assad wants to gas his people, my guess is that nothing the Americans can do will deter that and that everything that the Russians and Iranians can do will be in service of keeping Assad in power. Unless we want a shooting war with those countries, to what end, I have no idea, we are going to have to live with using the assemblies of nations to try to put pressure on the Syrians or else just take Assad out. If we choose the latter, then what?

I am afraid that there is evil in the world and the United States cannot eradicate all of it. Mr. Obama seemed to have finally figured it out. I am not sure if Mr. Trump ever will.

There are many choices before Dr. Pisters as to the direction of the clinical and research strategies of MD Anderson. He is taking his time choosing the best and he will undoubtedly then tap people to help him make that a reality. That makes Pisters smarter than Trump, but that’s no compliment to Peter. Making his vision a success following its articulation will be.

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