Outcomes matter. One will forget a tortuous path if it leads to a sanguine outcome. This is true in medicine and in life. Look at the recent path of American foreign policy and where it has led us.
Can You Choose the Right Path?
- The president announces that Assad has to go.
- The president lays down a red line for Syria with regard to chemical weapon use.
- The Syrians detonate a few chemical weapons, testers which we ignore.
- 100,000 Syrians are killed. We ignore this as this is not a ‘red line’ violation. A death by sarin gas is more objectionable than a death by a grenade.
- There is a chemical weapon massacre in Syria which shocks the world.
- The president and the administration give daily public briefings on our intended limited military response. The administration assures that this "will not be a pinprick". The Syrian regime watches CNN and FOX News so they can be apprised of the date and hour of our response.
- The Secretary of State makes a persuasive case on why we must respond militarily now, not only to restrain the Syrians, but to set a precedent for other nefarious adversaries.
- The president speaks to the nation. After echoing Secretary Kerry’s case, he retreats and announces that he wants Congress – the body he regularly derides – to vote on a military strike, although he adds that he already has the necessary authority to authorize a strike.
- Within hours, it is apparent that Congress has the same zest for action in Syria as did our British ally across the pond. The congressional vote would be against the president.
- The president has boxed himself into a policy that he obviously rejects.
- Vladimir Putin gives our president a lifeline and is thereby elevated on the world stage.
- Syria agrees to sign chemical weapons ban.
- The United States and the president are diminished.
- Congress is not diminished as they are already known as a feckless and self-serving lot.
- Putin and Russia are elevated.
- Assad, whom are president stated should be replaced, is now treated as a head of state.
- Syrian rebels are demoralized and face longer odds of achieving regime change.
- U.S. inaction has given time for the Syrian opposition to become infested with unfriendly elements.
- Iran and North Korea see that we “walk softly but carry a small toothpick”.
- Assad has no incentive to withdraw from ongoing massacres using conventional weapons.
- Chemical weapons inspections in Syria will quickly become bogged down with Syrian engaging in duplicity, evasions, denying inspectors access and putting forth challenges and obstacles that will derail the mission and will take years.
- Assad will either remain in power or fall to a regime worse than his was.
So, did we do well here? Is this George Bush’s fault? The president and his minions are gushing over the superb outcome that resulted. Sure the path was little rocky, they admit, but they claim that Syria was brought to her knees without firing a shot. They’re so giddy over the Putin rescue that their words and their heads are spinning wildly.
If the outcome is good, we will forgive a clumsy path. If the outcome is bad, should we simply declare that it is good and celebrate our success?
Since this is ostensibly a medical commentary blog, let me offer a medical analogy. In medicine, outcome is everything. If the patient survives or recovers, then patients and families celebrate even if the result was accidental. Many times I have been lucky to be presiding over a patient who recovers unrelated to my efforts. Sometimes, I am given undeserved credit for these spontaneous healings. But, it is harder for doctors than for politicians to tell patients that bad news is really good news. Bad medical news doesn’t become good news just because we say it is. If a doctor is over his head on a case and commits serial errors and misjudgments, and the patient barely survives, would we recommend this doctor to others?
Could Putin the peacemaker be awarded the Nobel Peace prize? Then, he and Obama would have something in common. Would Alfred Nobel celebrate these outcomes? Would we?