Economic Grounds and Social Factors Promoting Humanitarianism in Canada

Economic Grounds and Social Factors Promoting Humanitarianism in Canada

Part 5 on The Indo-Chinese Refugee Private Sponsorship Program


Howard Adelman

Political events around the world seemed to provide an opening for Canada to make a mark on the world. Canada was a relative military pygmy in such a tumultuous world and really just a sidekick to the U.S. Canada was not an economic powerhouse, though the country was growing in strength financially in spite of my nationalist friends leading the charge to the rear towards a protectionist strategy when the economic future lay in becoming part of a globalized economy. But it takes money to be a philanthropist. And significant numbers of Canadians were in a philanthropic mood.

Why? The 1970s had been a period that replaced the dominant mood inherited from the thirties that Canada was on the edge of a precipice headed towards economic disaster. That sense of economic uncertainty was replaced by its opposite, the illusion of limitless prosperity. We had hit the economic jackpot and would be propelled willy-nilly into a new economic age by the twin forces of an information revolution and globalization. Nationalism may have been a predominant rhetorical trope, but the world, and Canada, was moving in the opposite direction.

This illusion of unending and unlimited wealth with any probing could be exposed by the combined disasters of rising unemployment as the era of mass manufacturing was being superseded. This process was twinned with rising rates of inflation. Over the decade, of the seventies, the price of oil had risen from $3 to $40 a barrel and the rate of increase was accelerating. I mentioned previously that the price of oil in 1979 had risen 30% in three months, but that was just the signal that the era of cheap oil was over and massive wealth was in the process of being transferred to the oil rentier states, all well before Canadians in general became conscious that their country possessed the largest oil reserves in the world simply based on the oil fields off the coast of Newfoundland and the tar sands in Alberta. But the new oil boom meant that Alberta had become the home of multimillionaires in Canada and would quickly become the richest province in Canada.

Akin to 2015, Alberta was in for a seismic shock with the economic recession that walloped Canada in the early eighties. However, all this was around the corner. The good times appeared endless and deep recessions appeared to be a thing of the past. GDP between the end of the sixties and the end of the seventies increased 10% and would double over the next twenty years from a baseline at the end of the sixties. (Statistics Canada) But the rate of growth of GDP in the seventies had been 4.4% annually, and even in constant dollars had been 3%. However, the warning signs were all around even if they went unheeded. Like today, the value of the Canadian dollar was dropping – to around 85 cents at the time.

The decline in rates of growth was around the corner and hit Canada in the eighties and nineties averaging about 1.4% in constant dollars, half the rate of growth of the seventies. Real wages had risen 25% in the single decade of the seventies alone, but flat-lined when Canada entered the eighties and nineties. Though economic growth would continue, the wealth of the average Canadian would not; disparities between rich and poor would start to grow rather than continue a long decline. The average Canadian began to carry a heavier tax burden and disposable income halted its spectacular growth of the seventies. It soon became a necessity and not simply an option to have two household members per family. As a consequence, saving rates that had risen precipitously began their long decline until the present.

In 1979, Canadians were living in an economic bubble and felt they could well afford to be generous. The price of homes had not yet risen to the stratosphere, in part because of the insecurity of rising inflation. Young people felt very confident that everyone in the middle class could afford to own their own home. But the pattern of economic security was changing and 1979 was the cusp. Average unemployment rates that used to hover at 6.5% rose to a real average unemployment of 9% in the seventies and eighties even before so-called voluntary apprenticeships and the move of young people to part time and self-employment largely on the margins had become the order of the day.

Before 1979, Canadians had been working less and earning more. After 1979, they were working far more and effectively earning less. It was a time when Canadians could dream big because the realities of a harder economic life lay in the future. This illusory predominant make-up was exacerbated by the character of the sixties generation that were beginning to enter public leadership roles by 1979.

The failures of others helped bring Canada into a privileged place in the world. Economic conditions at home made a stretch possible. But vacuums and economic forces do not determine decisions. They simply make certain types of decisions and directions possible. Canadians had to take advantage of their beneficence and the openings available to them. I have already referred to the enlightened leadership in place whether Canada was governed by the Liberals or the Tories. That type of leadership was merely the tip of a much larger cultural change. To understand that change, we have to look at those who came of age in the sixties and the dominant motifs of that generation.

The sixties generation was made up of many parts. At least four of these parts were the New Left, the flower children, the fantasists and the love adults. The groups overlapped, interconnected and influenced one another. But they were distinct species of the same genus. Fantasists, flower children and love adults were led by the New Left in politics, or, as I prefer to dub our role, the superegos of political life that led the value revolution. (I do not have the space to develop this point in any detail. For an expanded version of this article, see two of my essays published at the beginning of the seventies: Howard Adelman (1970) “Imperialism of the American New Left,” Social Theory and Practice, Spring I:1, 39‑47, and (1971) “The Canadian New Left as an American Daimonion,” Social Theory and Practice, Spring 1:3, 73‑86.)

The most important legacy of the New Left was not its doctrines, for they contradicted one another as one traveled from France to Sweden and back to Canada and the United States in 1968. Their only common feature was that those new doctrines were neither new nor left. They were retro and, if properly understood, would dubbed age cohort as the retro rather than the new generation. Certainly New Leftists worked for peace and justice, mainly racial justice (more on this later). But their vision was not of a world run by the workers of the world but of a participatory democracy; all citizens should take part in the political process. In reality, those with the greatest patience who could sit the longest in meetings often determined the outcomes. What distinguished the New Left, the Retro Rousseauians, was not their myriad of causes and the varied quests for peace and social justice they promoted, but the new mode of organizing politically that would adumbrate the new age of communications.

They were networkers. Networking rather than hierarchies was their primary legacy. The Retros led, not by imposing norms, but by old-fashioned witnessing. They communicated, not by issuing orders, but by envisioning new realities even when those visions turned out to be recreations of old ones re-invented for a new age. The New Left imagined and succeeded in stopping the most powerful countries from spreading strontium 90 as the fallout from nuclear testing around the world producing genetic mutations. They helped bring the Vietnam war to an end and to get America running along the last lap ending legalized racism in the United States. Last evening I finally caught up to the very moving movie, Selma, the story of Martin Luther King’s leadership of the march from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama to confront Governor George Wallace on the myriad of laws that prevented Blacks voting in southern states. The main purpose of the march was to get President Johnson to take the initiative and put in place an Act to protect the right of all citizens in the U.S. to vote. The march succeeded. The era was a glorious period of advance while looking backwards for standards and principles; it left a deep mark on the participants.

In 1979, the New Left generation was coming into its own and had not given way to a successor generation that faced a far more ominous, formidable and seemingly inevitable vision of the destruction of the planet than even the nuclear threat. The eco generation with its melancholy overhang of despair as it tried to change policies and slow down climate change was not like the children of the sixties who firmly believed they could radically change the world in terms of ideals of peace and justice. The Retros of the New Left trusted themselves and they trusted one another. The politics of distrust had been banished to the woodshed. The Millennial Generation would finish the job by burying ideology under a mound of pragmatism.

The New Left were not alone in bringing about the revolution of the sixties. They were the Retros who wanted a future that resembled an idyllic small town past. Unlike New Leftists, flower children lived totally in the present. They took the fantasies seriously and made a life history of living in a world of illusions fuelled by cannabis. Flower children are not to be confused with Fantasists. The latter envisioned the real future and brought it into the present explicitly as fantasy. The flower children lived a life of fantasy and gave the sixties its colour and its sounds. The fantasists gave the sixties its biological and technological dreams.

The New Left, flower children and the fantasists lived side by side in Rochdale College in the late sixties to join together to shock staid uptight Protestant Ontario. However, that country and province of stability, of the rule of law, but also of cold and narrow minds, of repressed dreams which hung on to the prejudices of the Irish north, felt secure enough to allow a young and untested group to loan five million dollars from the federal treasury ($100 million in today’s money) to build what turned out to be a psychedelic tower but was envisioned as a free university. Not that the room and board were free. But education was controlled by students, with the curriculum determined by them with professors only serving as volunteer facilitators. The experiment was at once a throwback to the amateur university that preceded the development of the professional university that had begun with the University of Berlin in the beginning of the nineteenth century, but without the inherited and instilled mores that governed those early modern colleges and their attempt to instil a lifestyle and values approach to those who attended.

From another perspective, Rochdale adumbrated our contemporary colleges, for it was  really just a parody of the consumer university of the twenty-first century that exiled the professional university (the Sanctuary of Method) and superseded the Social Service ideal that succeeded the idea of a university as a training ground for an elite of self-governing professionals. (Howard Adelman (1973) The Holiversity, Toronto: New Press)

Perhaps its most interesting component was not found in its politics or its escape from politics, but in its dreamers, its artists who formed the sculpture collective that produced the statue of the unknown student still sitting today in front of the building now serving as a seniors home like a fat Buddha but staring in at its own belly button. After all, Rochdale College was home to Coach House Press, Theatre Passe Muraille, the best classic films in the city, and, of course, Dennis Lee, who became famous as a children’s poet, but who founded House of Anansi Press and was the leader of the educational ideal of Rochdale.

Most of all, and perhaps least known, it was home to the largest science fiction collection in the world contributed by that ex-New Yorker, Judith Grossman, originally a Bostonian and child of Ethel and Shlomo Grossman, who used her pen name of Judith Merril. The collection eventually found a home in the Toronto Public Library system originally as the Spaced Out Library and eventually as the Merril Collection of Science Fiction, Speculation & Fantasy. The collection epitomized Rochdale specifically and the sixties more generally, the belief that one could envision the future and make it part of everyday reality either as a political expression (the New Left), a drug trip (the flower children) or a product of one’s creative imagination that envisaged a new future.

Living in the midst and around the edges of this heterodox experiment were the love adults, forerunners of an age that allowed women to emerge from their domestic cocoons and compete in the world on a level playing field. In my class of 61 in the Faculty of Medicine, the entry of women into Medical School was restricted to 10% on the silly, even if partially accurate, argument that investment in women’s medical education would not be nearly as productive as investment in male education, as women would leave medical practice in order to bear and raise children. The reality was that men and women of subsequent generations were no longer willing to work all hours and sacrifice their lives for a career. They wanted a career as well as a balanced life, an ethos that began its development in the sixties, that demanded that doors open to women, and where women finally took control of their reproductive system with the development of birth control drugs and devices.

So the sixties produced a brash generation, full of itself and confident in its ability to change the world, an innovative generation that was both willing and able to take on large challenges and presume it could solve the problems of the world. One of the largest challenges to emerge was the refugee exodus from Indochina. The inheritors of the sixties, whether in government as civil servants and politicians, in the media, in churches and synagogues, or in secular life, took on the challenge with a gusto and energy that overran all obstacles. Though having no comparison to the fortitude and courage of the refugees themselves, they too demonstrated the values of self-sacrifice and dedication, not to save themselves but to express themselves and the values they upheld.

To be continued

Canada a Peaceable Kingdom in a World of Dramatic Change: Refugees 1979

Canada a Peaceable Kingdom in a World of Dramatic Change: Refugees 1979

Part 1V on The Indo-Chinese Refugee Private Sponsorship Program


Howard Adelman

In one sense, 1979 was very much like 2015, most noticeably in the number of spectacular airline crashes that took place: the American Airlines DC-10 that crashed on takeoff from O’hare Airport in Chicago killing 273 in May 1979, the collision of two Russian airliners in August killing 173, the crash of a DC-10 at the end of October in Mexico City that killed 74 and the Air New Zealand DC-10 that crashed at the end of November into Mt Erebus on Antarctica killing all 257 on board. 2015 also resemble 1979 in the number of stories of migrants fleeing on boats from Africa and drowning at sea. Otherwise, 1979 belonged to a very different world, especially in Canada, which seemed to occupy a privileged and happy Eden of its own with some exceptions, such as the train derailment in Mississauga near the end of 1979 that forced the evacuation of 200,000.

The private sponsorship of Indochinese refugees took off like a rocket in the summer of 1979. The Liberal government had committed itself to bringing in 5,000 Indochinese refugees into Canada during 1979. On 22 May of that year the government of Canada was defeated in a national election and a very young and eager Progressive Conservative Party led by Joe Clark won the election and formed a new minority government. Joe Clark at the age of 39 became Canada’s youngest Prime Minister on 4 June.

No sooner had the Conservatives come to power than they faced the question of what action to take in response to the dramatic increase in refugees fleeing Vietnam in rickety boats that were often attacked by pirates. Ron Atkey had been briefed in detail by Bud Cullen, the previous Minister of Immigration in the Liberal government, on the need to take further action. Atkey, named by Joe Clark as the Minister of Immigration, had obtained government approval to increase the total intake for 1979 to 12,000, 8,000 to be sponsored by the government and 4,000 allocated for sponsorship by the private sector. By July, the government had increased the target to 50,000, including 8,000 sponsored by the government, 21,000 additional government sponsorships on a matching basis with 21,000 to be sponsored by the private sector.

What was happening in Canada, in its cultural and political life that led the population of Canada to become so active and involved in the private sponsorship of Indochinese refugees? Before the end of the year, the Canadian private sector had surpassed the target of 21,000 sponsorships with almost 30,000. Further, the success was not only in quantity but in the successful adaptation of the refugees to Canadian life. Though Canada was a cold country, the welcome and outreach by Canadians involved in the refugee sponsorship movement was anything but.

That period in Canada was a time of dramatic political change yet unusual continuity. On 16 August 1979, former Prime Minister John Diefenbaker died but he had left a legacy of rights that infused all political parties in Canada at the time. When the short-lived Clark government was defeated in February 1980, the Liberals returned to power and they increased the total targeted intake of Indochinese refugees from 50,000 to 60,000 to ensure that the government kept its previous matching pledge.

The superficial shifting of political power did not threaten the progressive unity underneath these political changes epitomized by Bud Cullen briefing Ron Atkey in detail on the Indochinese refugee problem and the need to enhance Canada’s role. Canada was a place of calm and confidence, whatever the political shenanigans. Humanitarianism seemed to captivate the political imagination.

However, much deeper and more profound changes were underway in Southeast Asia. Following the initial Nixon initiative, the U.S. and China had exchanged diplomatic missions. On 29 January 1979, Chinese vice-premier Deng Xiaoping visited Washington.   Deng would emerge subsequently as President to initiate the most substantial changes in China to move the country from a peasant economy to an industrial and trading economic power based on private ownership and entrepreneurship while the Communist Party retained a monopoly on power.

At the same time, America had begun to deal with its own failure in Vietnam. Two anti-Vietnam war movies won top honours at the 51st Academy Awards, Deer Hunter nominated nine times and winning the award for best picture, best director (Michael Cimino) and best supporting actor for Christopher Walkem, while Coming Home nominated eight times won awards for John Voigt as the best actor and Jane Fonda as the best actress as well as the award for the best original screenplay. Shortly after the awards ceremony the world experienced the release of  Apocalypse Now with Marlon Brando, Robert Duvall and Martin Sheen.

During this very same period, Vietnam invaded another communist state, Cambodia, and captured Phnom Penh from the Khmer Rouge. Cambodia was an ally of China and China invaded Vietnam setting off the Sino-Vietnamese War. The People’s Republic of China withdrew its troops from Vietnam a month later, but not without eventually extracting severe concessions re the ownership of disputed islands and other border areas. China was just beginning to stretch its wings and joined the IOC in April. By November, China was re-admitted to the Olympics.

At the same time, the U.S. and the U.S.S.R. were on a long decline with some brief intermissions, the latter on a steep economic and political one and the former on a very gradual hardly noticeable retreat restricted to the international political arena. The year was an auspicious one for the United States, beginning with the major nuclear accident and partial meltdown at 3 Mile Island in Middletown Pennsylvania. America’s protectorates in the South Pacific were achieving independence, though they remained satraps of America under American tutelage and protection. On 1 October, the U.S. would return the Panama Canal to Panama. But the United States was also undergoing a major cultural revolution as the period of LGBT rights began, ironically, with the murder of Mayor Moscone of San Francisco and the passing of the first gay rights bill in Los Angeles. The beginning of the retreat from its self-perception as the world’s policeman went hand-in-hand with the beginning of a surrender of a macho culture that had built into it the repression not only of non-macho men who come out as gay or transsexual, but the oppression of women, especially lesbians.

While all this turmoil was underway abroad and nearby, Canada was going through very peaceful elections that produced an upset and the displacement of the long ruling Liberals with the conservatives in power. In South East Asia, Vietnam, in part in order to pay the large costs of its war, began to confiscate the wealth of its ethnic Chinese and South Vietnamese entrepreneurs, encouraging their flight while charging them a “tax” to take leaky and unseaworthy boats to escape. The North Vietnamese had evolved into a regime that stole from the rich in multiple ways and pushed the ethnic Chinese minority and subsequently Vietnamese businessmen out of the country.

In the meanwhile, though U.S. turmoil had ended in Southeast Asia, in the near east, events were not as tranquil. The year had begun with the flight of Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi to Egypt and the interim Bakhtiar government was soon displaced by the return of the exiled Ayatollah Khomeini from Paris, who declared an Islamic Republic on 1 April. Iran was in turmoil and that turmoil allowed OPEC over a period of three months to raise the price of oil by 30%. The Iranian government was at war with its Kurdish population; a virulent pogrom was launched against Iranian Kurds and its own non-Kurdish population as book burnings and mass executions took place over the next six months.  On 4 November, 400 radical young Islamists raided and occupied the American embassy in Tehran taking many of the diplomatic personnel hostage, though some escaped to Canadian facilities. Female and black employees were soon released. Khomeini assumed absolute control and declared America to be the “Great Satan.” The U.S. responded to the provocation, not by bombing Iran to smithereens for such a provocative action, but by freezing Iranian assets and stopping the import of Iranian oil and gas. Iran reciprocated by cancelling all American contracts.

While Iran was a bubbling volcano and while a war had broken out between North and South Yemen that would continue with periodic eruptions to the present day, Israel and Egypt were forging a peace agreement that took effect on 25 April. The oil fields that Israel had seized in 1967 were returned in November and Israel transferred back the Sinai, or almost all of it. The unbelievable had happened. The most powerful state by far in the Arab world, the centre of Arab filmmaking, book publishing and intellectual creativity, had given up on its ambition of becoming the regional hegemon. Who knew then that Iran and, to some extent Turkey, would attempt to move into the vacuum left in the wake of the Egyptian retreat.

In the meanwhile, Latin American dominoes seemed to be falling into communist or fascist hands. The New Jewel Movement overthrew the Gairy dictatorship in Grenada and the Sandinistas took power in Nicaragua as dictator Anastasio Somoza fled to Miami. In El Salvador, it was another story as a military coup forced President and General Carlos Romero to flee. In contrast, in Africa things seemed to be looking up, with the emphasis on “seems”. Tanzania invaded Uganda and the mad man of Africa, President Idi Amin, fled the country. In Rhodesia, finally a black government replaced the repressive white minority and Bishop Muzorewa assumed power. Even the Congo adopted a constitution, but it, like many reforms in Africa, would prove to be mirages though everyone was pleased to see the last of Emperor Jean-Bédel Bokassa in the Central African Republic, overthrown in a coup. Perhaps after Rhodesia, the most hailed event was the accession to power in Angola of José Eduardo dos Santos.

While the United States was in turmoil overseas, Britain was in lock-down mode at home. 10,000 public sector workers went on strike. The IRA violence was rising and Richard Sykes, the British ambassador to the Netherlands, was assassinated in The Hague. In late March, Airey Neave, a British parliamentarian, was killed by a car bomb outside of Westminster. As bombs were going off all across Northern Ireland, as members of the Royal Ulster Constabulary were being murdered and British soldiers were being ambushed, as the violence culminated in the assassination of Earl Mountbatten in September, Margaret Thatcher had become the first female Prime Minister of Britain after the James Callaghan government had collapsed in May. She would set off a political revolution that Britain had not seen for a century, providing a preview of what would happen when Ronald Reagan won over the incumbent Jimmy Carter who had so bungled the Iran file. To top the humiliating period the UK was going through, Sir Anthony Blunt, art advisor to the Queen, was outed as the fourth member of the Soviet spy ring. Is it any wonder that, compared to Canada’s success, Britain’s program of resettling Indochinese refugees went so badly, quite aside from the foolish decision to resettle the refugees in vacant public housing, that is, precisely in areas with very high unemployment levels.

Even though the Red Army hockey team beat the New York Rangers, the runner-up in the Stanley Cup contest, by a score of 5-2 in Madison Square Garden, by year’s end, the U.S.S.R. had made the fatal mistake that would doom the Soviet empire when at the end of the year, the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan, overthrew President Hafizullah Amin and seized the presidential palace in Kabul. The fall of the Soviet empire had probably already been triggered by the visit of Pope John Paul II to Poland in June. At the height of all this publicity in Canada about the Boat People and as Canada was in transition from a Liberal to a Tory government, the world seemed to be going through hell as well as growing seeds for a new future.

All that is to say is that Canada was a peaceable kingdom engaged in peripheral and irrelevant debates over whether to move its embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem as the U.S., U.S.S.R., China and France seemed to be racing each other before the Salt II test ban treaty took effect to test and explode as many nuclear weapons as each could, weapons that were useless if ever used and only of use in deterrence if they were never used. It was indeed a mad mad world and Canada seemed an island of tranquility in a global epidemic of insanity. The sign – sports. The NHL was expanding to absorb the four teams in the World Hockey Association – the Oilers, Jets, Nordiques and Whalers. On 21 May when the news o the boat people was reaching a fever pitch just two weeks before the Tories were to take power, the Montreal Canadiens beat the New York Rangers 4 games to 1 to clinch the Stanley Cup. It was great time to be a Canadian and a relatively easy time for a Canadian to be a humanitarian.

Benefits of Overseas Selection versus the Asylum Process

Benefits of Overseas Selection versus the Asylum Process

Part 3 on The Indo-Chinese Refugee Private Sponsorship Program


Howard Adelman

The asylum process relies in the first instance on self-selection. This means that those with money and/or access to people smugglers have a distinct advantage. In taking refugees from overseas, Canada can prioritize one group of refugees over another and one sub-group of refugees over another. The grounds may be that the group is most at risk or that action is needed to wind up the resettlement of a relatively small cohort of refugees or the group that has suffered the most and has the greatest number can be advantaged, such as the Syrian refugees.

At the beginning of 2015, the Minister of Immigration, Chris Alexander, finally announced a relatively modest but what appeared at first to be at least a significant program for 3,000,000 Syrian refugees, the largest single group of refugees under UNHCR responsibility on the planet, a figure which excludes those who are internally displaced estimated to be at least twice that number. On my birthday, 7 January of this year, the announcement was widely communicated by the media that Canada had pledged to resettle 10,000 additional Syrian refugees and 3,000 Iraqi refugees. UNHCR, in light of past performance, had set a very modest target of 100,000. Canada had pledged to take its normal allotment of 10%, or 10,000 refugees. But not in one year, but over three years. Modest indeed! Not much of a birthday present I thought.

This was on top of the 1,300 Syrian refugees Canada had pledged to take the previous year but somehow seemed unable to take nearly that number. Given the scope of the crisis, the pledge at the same time of $90 million in humanitarian aid was at least responsible, but it also communicated that Canada was far more interested in warehousing rather than resettling refugees.

Further, of the 10,000, the government was only taking 1,300 per year, precisely what it had pledged for 2014. There had been no large increase. Refugee sponsorship organizations had advocated the entry of 10,000 Syrian refugees, but in a rapid resettlement program, not one spread over three years. Further, they advocated special expedited measures for those with family members already in Canada. Originally, only approximately 40% of the 10,000 were to be sponsored by the government while 60% were left for private sponsorships. Though the government subsequently backed off this ratio, this was not a form of leadership to galvanize a nation for even the government/private matching formula of 1:1 had been abandoned in favour of a 1:1 matching formula for the years 2015, 2016 and 2017 compared to 2014. The government had initially left it up to the private sector to lead any overseas intake of Syrian refugees. In contrast, Sweden, a smaller country in geographical and population terms, had already accepted 40,000 Syrian refugees and expected 80,000 asylum seekers in 2014 alone. Canada had totally abandoned its leadership role in refugee resettlement and had become a laggard.

In does not help that the UNHCR greeted Canada’s initial announcement with diplomatic obsequious pussyfooting. It was dubbed “substantial” and a “generous commitment” when it was neither. It was not “in keeping with Canada’s strong humanitarian tradition to offer resettlement to refugees worldwide.” It might be rationalized as a result of the weak response to UNHCR previous appeals. After all, it took an enormous effort to get the 30,000 in the last round, just over 1% of the Syrian refugee population. UNHCR had upped its target to 2.5% of the Syrian refugee population. Even with pledges not spread over several years, it would take 40 years to resettle all the refugees. Of course, this is somewhat of a distortion since most of the refugees will have settled in countries of first asylum like Turkey, Lebanon and Jordan. But the Canadian targets and pledges are so miniscule as to be embarrassing.

It does not help that the Canadian performance on the ground had even been much worse. By the end of 2014, 1,285 of the year’s pledge of 1,300 had been approved for entry into Canada and Alexander insisted that 1,100 were already here. However, only 360 of that 1,300 had been government sponsored refugees – 160 above Canada’s initial pledge of 200 – and the rest were privately sponsored refugees. The refugee sponsors were constantly complaining about the slow and dragged out process of fulfilling those private sponsorships. Alexander’s contention that 1,100 had arrived hardly seemed credible. Further, when one recalls that in the Indochinese refugee movement the government with only 16 employees in the field was transferring that same number of 1,300 per week rather than per year, one realizes how atrocious the Canadian performance has been and will likely continue to be.

The weak criticisms of Paul Dewar of the NDP and John McCallum of the Liberals were also symptoms of the times, for they welcomed the numbers and focused criticism on the ability of the government to deliver given the past record. Not quite as pusillanimous as the UNHCR, but the opposition was competing very hard for that honour. John McCallum had been caught in a trap. For he personally had proposed that Canada sponsor 10,000 Syrian refugees, the number pushed by private sponsorship organizations when the figure of 1,300 was announced. The government had used that number, but spread over three years.

There was one ray of light in the announcement. “Canada is focusing on vulnerable individuals and those facing persecution. We make no apologies for putting focus on people in need, some of whom are being persecuted based on their religious beliefs,” said Alexander. In a message sent to the media, a government spokesperson, Kevin Ménard, said that, “”Our priority is and will continue to be on those who are at risk because they are a religious minority, a sexual minority, or victims of rape.”

Why is this a ray of light? Isn’t sponsoring Christians ahead of Muslims discrimination? The LGPT community who have been one group of sponsors for Syrian refugees at risk because of sexual orientation should be delighted. But Professor Nicole LaViolette of the University of Ottawa, a research pioneering scholar on the persecution of LGBT members overseas who flee as refugees and who has advised the LGBT community about the use of private sponsorship to help their cohort in Syria, deplored the discrimination favouring using sexual orientation as a preference guide. As she wrote in a Wall Street Journal op-ed on 11 February 2015, “Canadian LGBT communities must insist that the Conservative government respect its international obligations to provide refugee protection without discrimination. Sexual minorities know only too well the harm caused by discrimination. Queer Canadians should not support doing unto others what has long been done to us.”

This is an example of very bad reasoning. In prioritizing Syrian refugees over other groups, there is already discrimination taking place. It is one of the great virtues of overseas selection. Christians are being systematically ethnically cleansed from the Middle East. In Iraq, out of 2 million Christians in 1990, there are less than 100,000 left today. Syria under the oppressive Assad regime treated Christians fairly well, in fact, often better because they posed no danger to the regime itself. However, the war, the rise of radical Islamicism, and even in the camps, Christians have been targeted for mistreatment. The same is true of members of the LGBT community. Discrimination in favour of religious and sexual minorities at risk is well warranted.

In principle, refugee protection should indeed be granted without discrimination. However, in practice, triage is justified. There are degrees of risk and those most at risk and requiring more and better protection should be taken first. This has nothing to do with the Harper government harping on queue jumpers, for that assertion was also based on a false depiction of entry into Canada with a single queue. There are multiple routes into Canada. Self-selected refugees who arrive at entry points are not jumping any queue. They are jumping into one queue usually because the alternative queues were very inaccessible.

There is another form of discrimination that can be used to enhance the intake of refugees from abroad. Refugees selected under relaxed immigration criteria can be directed to resettle in parts of Canada that need employment. In a proposal prepared by Mike Malloy, Naomi Alboim and myself, we had urged the government to abandon its temporary workers program for unskilled workers in meat packing plants and food service in parts of Canada, where it was very hard to find employees, in favour of taking refugees instead. This advice was offered even before the temporary workers program became a national scandal. The plan entailed marrying private sector employers, who, to our surprise, responded enthusiastically to the proposal for it solved several of their problems with temporary unskilled workers – the high cost of getting an unskilled worker, the lack of benefit over the long term for the training offered, the assistance in resettlement, adaptation and training that would be available, not to count the kudos that would come their way in contrast to the criticisms over the temporary workers program.

In December of 2014, the government sent out a trial balloon that it was seriously considering using the resettlement of refugees to satisfy the needs of employers in certain areas of the country. No program has emerged that I know of to move the program in that direction. Currently, there are several routes through which the private sector can become involved with refugees.  Citizens can become involved as direct members or as members of a constituent group of an incorporated Sponsorship Agreement Holder (SAH). They are normally religious, ethnic or humanitarian organizations. Among the almost 100 SAHs, a small minority of them, handle the vast bulk of refugee sponsorships in contrast to the 1979-80 period when a significant percentage of refugees were sponsored by groups of five or more individuals (G5) who came together to help refugees resettle in Canada.

A third route is through Community Sponsorship located in the area where the refugee was to be settled. Molloy, Alboim and I had proposed a fourth route using a partnership between: a) a Community Group to provide the human resources for the resettlement of the refugees; b) a SAH because of its experience in handling the paperwork, c) small groups of citizens in the area to be assigned to a particular family of a small cluster of refugees, and, most importantly, d) a business prepared to offer the refugee a job, presumably to offset the need for temporary unskilled workers. This would have the advantage of overcoming the huge barrier of costs (estimated currently at $25,000 per sponsorship) while providing the business with a human support group for the refugees. An argument has been made that Syrian refugees have suffered so much that they will need a longer period of support before they are ready to assume a job. I, personally, remain to be convinced, especially if these refugees are taken in above the 10,000 target over the next three years and can be selected on the basis of their employability.

Private sponsors spend less per refugee on resettlement than the government. Part of this is because of in-kind donations and use of volunteers. But part of the explanation is that the government provides wider access to government services, which, if offered on an equal basis for all refugees, would assist and encourage private sponsors enormously. Evidence even at the time of the Indochinese refugee movement showed that if the time between making the refugee offer and the time of receiving the refugees is too great – three months was considered appropriate and over six months too long – then interest in private sponsorship fell off precipitously. Delays currently are much more than a year and the only reason we still have the PSR program currently is that the SAH’s are used overwhelmingly as vehicles for family reunification. This is also why the administrative costs of private sponsorship are so much higher than sponsorship of GARs because specific individuals have to be located and refugees are not being processed on an assembly line basis.

A study commissioned by the government concluded that PSRs earned more than GSRs after three years. Since the question was not asked, but what was concluded at the time of the Indochinese Refugee Movement using comparative research, was that PSRs had any more Canadian-born friends and far better networks to link to employment opportunities as well as facilitate integration. The reality is that the private sponsorship program that reached its heyday at the time of the Indochinese Refugee Movement has been allowed to die and has been replaced de facto by a family reunification program. This is the real bias in the current program. What was the program like “back then” and what made that moment unique and distinctly different from today?

Asylum Seekers versus Refugees Selected from Overseas

Asylum Seekers versus Refugees Selected from Overseas

Part 2 on The Indo-Chinese Refugee Private Sponsorship Program


Howard Adelman

What quickly emerges from any study of the last 40 years in Canada’s dealing with refugees is the deep dichotomy that developed between the asylum seekers who arrived in Canada on their own and claimed refugee status within Canada or at the U.S. border, and the many more refugees selected by Canada from refugee camps abroad and allowed entry into Canada under relaxed immigration criteria. In fact, many of the Chilean refugees were not technically refugees for they were interviewed in prison or, at least, within the country and picked up at Chilean airports on chartered Canadian flights. To understand the program of refugee selection abroad, it helps to compare it to the development of the asylum program that was really formally born at the time of the Indochinese refugee movement beginning with a ten year pregnancy period once Canada became a signatory to the Convention in 1969.

Asylum claimants initially were very few in number, a tiny program entailing only about 200-300 claimants per year in the latter half of the seventies when Canada, after the fall of Saigon to the communists in 1975, began to admit Indochinese refugees from Vietnam as Convention Refugees selected abroad between 1975-1978. When the Indochinese refugee sponsorship movement was at its height in 1980, the number of asylum claimants had grown to 1,000; 40,000 government and privately sponsored Indochinese refugees arrived at the same time.

In the broad Canadian definition, refugees include both those selected from refugee camps under relaxed immigration criteria and those who claim refugee status in Canada – asylum seekers. Refugees in general are people forced to flee their country and who are afraid to return because of war, violence or persecution based on race, religion, nationality, political opinion or membership in a particular social group. Asylum claimants who apply for Convention refugee status do so under the International Refugee Convention and must establish that they have a well-grounded fear of persecution for they belong to a group that has been targeted for persecution. Refugees selected abroad need not be Convention Refugees in the legal sense as long as Canada defines them as belonging to a designated class of immigrant since the 1976 legislation came into force in 1978.

Before then, the tens of thousands of east-European refugees (Hungarians in 1956-7, Czechs in 1968) were admitted under a Canadian refugee definition adopted by the government in 1951 which defined a refugee as “a person who, as a result of events arising out of WWII, was displaced from one European country to another and has not been resettled, or (b) because of a fear of persecution on religious, racial or political grounds, left one of the Soviet-bloc countries since the International Refugee Organization terminated  its activities on December 31, 1951 and has not been permanently resettled.”

In 1970, after Canada ratified the 1951 Convention( 1969) (as modernized by the 1967 protocol), Canada established a committee to make recommendations to the minister regarding people claiming refugee status in Canada. The government also decided to use the Convention definition as a guideline for selection abroad shorn of the pre-1951 restrictions to Europe for refugee selection abroad. These refugees were to be selected  using a very liberal application of the point system; visa officers were given discretionary power to override the point system, especially when assistance was available in Canada for resettlement. In addition, there was an oppressed minority (OM) policy that allowed the selection of oppressed people still within their country of citizenship/habitual residence.

The Ugandan Asians came in under the OM policy, defined by the department as the convention definition minus the requirement of being outside the country of citizenship. The point system was applied and approvals made on the basis of the discretionary decisions of visa officers. In Chile. Argentina and Uruguay the OM policy was used for people still in their country, the Convention Definition for those outside, and, thirdly, by cabinet direction for political prisoners. Between 1975 and 1978, Canada used the Convention Definition as the guideline for admissions for the Indochinese until the Designated Classes came into force. In the post 1976-78 period there was still a “Convention Refugee in need off resettlement” category and three designated classes – Indochinese, Latin Americans (based on the OM definition), which later became the Political Prisoner and Oppressed Persons Class, and the Self-Exiled Class used for Soviet Jews and other East European refugees. The Convention Definition was considered as lacking sufficient flexibility to encompass the people encountered in the refugee camps of West Europe.

Many of the Indochinese would not have qualified as Convention Refugees for they were primarily fleeing war and a repressive regime rather than fleeing persecution that targeted a group to which they belonged. The general classification, rather than an individual hearing and review, made possible the huge enhanced intake of Indochinese refugees both in absolute numbers and as a percentage of those who fled Indochina from 1979 onwards. Canada before the eighties did not see itself as primarily a country of first asylum. Though it strongly supported the United Nations Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees in 1951 and had been active in its drafting, Canada did not adopt the Refugee Convention until 1969, eighteen years later. But strong currents of change were underway that characterized the seventies.

The 1976 Immigration Act (proclaimed in 1978) was the first to include a reference to refugees and established specific goals that included the promotion of Canada’s demographic, economic, social and cultural goals while also providing for family reunification, non-discrimination and the fulfilment of Canada’s international obligations. In an effort to enhance cooperation between the government and Canadian citizens, the new act made provision for groups of five or more individuals or agreement holders to privately sponsor refugees. But the program for asylum claims remained unchanged. Designed to handle at most 500 claims a year, by 1980 there were 1,000 claims. This was the prime motive in imposing visas in 1979 – to stem the flow of asylum claimants. It was one thing for us to select refugees from abroad; it was another for self-selected refugee claimants to make their way to Canada and claim entry by right under international law.

Changes were also afoot in another area that would have an enormous impact on Canada’s refugee intake. Canada passed the Charter of Rights and Freedoms in 1982, effectively embedding John Diefenbaker’s 1958 Bill of Rights in the Canadian constitution. Canada was also developing a very independent foreign policy with rights as a central pillar. While America defined Latin America as an arena in which the Cold War was taking place through proxies, Canada primarily viewed the conflicts as home-grown resulting from gross disparities between rich and poor with citizens fleeing repressive regimes. The U.S. partnered with central and South American military regimes; Canada partnered with NGOs and humanitarian aid organizations. The result: the Canadian government facilitated the intake of Salvadorans and Guatemalans as designated classes. Between 1982 and 1987, Canada admitted 15,877 Latin American “refugees”, 11,251 from El Salvador. An additional family program brought the total to 20,955 over five years.

In the same period, on the asylum front, the asylum seekers kept coming in increasing numbers so that, by 1984, five years later, Canada was dealing with 10,000 claimants. The system ground to a slow walk as backlogs built up, thereby lengthening even more an already complex process. Four interventions changed the direction of refugee asylum policy in Canada which I dub the dropping of a pair of shoes and then a pair of heavy boots. In 1985, in the Singh decision, the Supreme Court of Canada ruled that asylum claimants had the right to appear personally before the decision-maker because the Charter of Rights and Freedoms applies to all persons on Canadian soil and every individual in Canada, not only citizens or legal residents, are entitled to protection.

The second shoe to drop was the Plaut Report. Rabbi Gunther Plaut was commissioned to write a report proposing a model for a new refugee determination system which was tabled in Parliament in the spring of 1986. It not only provided a system for universal application for all applicants, an independent Refugee Board, two member panels hearing the claim and requiring only one assent for the claim to be approved while written reasons had to be given if both members denied a claim. There was a built-in appeal system first to another member of the Board to review a negative decision and then, if denied again, the claimant had a right to appeal to the Federal Court. An interpretation by the Minster of Immigration, Lloyd Axworthy (though John Roberts was the minister when Plaut was appointed) that gave the benefit of doubt to the claimant’s evidence in refugee hearings also significantly skewed the claims process in favour of the claimant. New legislation tabled in Parliament in 1987 largely following the recommendations of the Plaut Report though they did not come into law until the beginning of 1989.

The third intervention was a boot rather than a shoe for it galvanized a response by Canada based on fear rather than legislative or judicial deliberations. The first boot was the arrival of two ships carrying refugees. A group of 174 Sikhs arrived on Canada’s eastern shores of Shelburne County as the ship carrying them ran aground off the shores of Nova Scotia almost twenty-five years ago to the day on which I am writing this paragraph on 6 May 2015. Subsequently in the summer of 1990, a group of Sri Lankans then arrived off the west coast. The idea that Canada could not be a country of first asylum dissipated quickly. While the first boatload had been welcomed, the second set off a panic and fears that hordes of refugees would be headed to Canadian shores, especially given the interminable nature of the claims process and the likelihood that the claimants, whatever the merits of their claims, would be well settled before there was any real move to deport them even if their claim was denied. The legislation included a Safe Third Country provision that finally came into effect in 2004 after an agreement with the U.S. was signed denying the right of anyone to enter Canada to make a claim if they had traveled to Canada via a country that protected refugees, such as the U.S., unless they had a relative within Canada to sponsor them. The Minister was originally required to declare which countries were safe, but, when the legislation was initially passed, Axworthy chose not to do so.

The second boot to drop was the appearance of a few terrorists in Canada in the decade and a half before 9/11 and the destruction of the twin towers in New York when two hijacked planes flown by terrorists were flown directly into the buildings. If the first boot was fear of arrival of refugees by sea, the second boot was the fear that those arriving were terrorists – in 1986 a convicted Palestinian terrorist, in 1991 an Iranian alleged assassin, Tamils form Sri Lanka accused of being fund raisers and supporters for the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam fighting for an independent state in the north of their country.

A trend already underway became solidified. Onshore refugee claimants displaced refugees selected offshore as the main source of refugees arriving to and accepted by Canada. The numbers rose from 10,000 in 1996 to double that number ten years later. In five more years, the number of claimants had almost doubled again to 44,500 in 2001, the year of 9/11.  Of those claims, 58% were given positive decisions. In the meanwhile, the number of refugees selected abroad began falling from just under 14,000 in 1989 (compared to 30,000 per year in 1979 and 1980) to under 8,000 ten years later. The number of claimants was over six times the number of refugees brought from overseas and those numbers represented just over 30% of the refugees who won their asylum claims or less than 25% of Canada’s intake of refugees in 1997. That reversal of the proportion of refugees selected abroad in favour of self-settled refugees arriving in Canada and claiming refugee status continued to the present.

In 2012, under the leadership of the Immigration Minister Jason Kenney, reforms were introduced to streamline the asylum process to eliminate the build-up of backlogs and inhibit bogus claimants. But the results of the reforms were opposite to what had been anticipated. In 2014, 35% of refugee claimants from Hungary, overwhelmingly Roma, were accepted as opposed to only 12% in 2012. Hungary was third from the top in producing refugees.

The top 20 countries, both safe and presumably unsafe, by number of decisions finalized (both new and backlog), in 2014 were:

  1. China             42%     (34% in 2013)
  2. Pakistan        78%     (72% in 2013)
  3. Hungary        35%     (20% in 2013)
  4. Colombia      52%     (38% in 2013)
  5. Syria             93%     (90% in 2013)
  6. Nigeria          53%     (35% in 2013)
  7. India             18%     (15% in 2013)
  8. Korea (North) 0%
  9. Afghanistan  77%     (71% in 2013)
  10. Haiti              41%     (40% in 2013)
  11. Congo (DRC) 43%     (49% in 2013)
  12. Iraq               82%     (63% in 2013)
  13. Sri Lanka      58%     (51% in 2013)
  14. Croatia         11%     (11% in 2013)
  15. Slovakia       52%     (8% in 2013)
  16. Ukraine        59%     (41% in 2013)
  17. Bangladesh 64%     (39% in 2013)
  18. Iran             71%     (75% in 2013)
  19. Egypt          86%     (89% in 2013)
  20. Somalia    54%     (59% in 2013)

The acceptance of refugee claimants granted asylum who came from Slovakia was fifteen times as much as before the reforms. Even from Mexico, though not in the top twenty but also defined as a safe country, acceptance rates went up 50%. None of this takes into consideration that, according to the analysis of decisions made by refugee adjudicators by Professor Sean Rehaag of Osgoode Hall Law School, York University, acceptance rates were more determined by the luck of the draw in the adjudicator hearing the case than what happened in a hearing. Rates of acceptance were predictable based on who was assigned to hear the claim even when adjustments are made to take into account that some adjudicators focus on countries with a record of producing high numbers of refugees whereas others focus on countries with a record of producing few refugees. This skewing of decisions even seems to take into account refugee hearing officers assigned to handle expedited claims.

The only figure that dropped was the intake of refugee claimants. The reforms seemed to cut the intake in half and the processing period from 20 to 3 months, but by 2014 the intake was up over 30% from the year before. The trend upwards seems to be continuing into 2015. Although there was a temporary respite in the number of claimants, the percentage accepted offset this shift somewhat and the numbers coming are rising again. If the intent of the new legislation was to deter asylum claimants under the rubric of discouraging “bogus” claimants, it has not worked. Further, if past correlations offer any guidance, a rise in refugees admitted through the refugee claims process can be roughly correlated with a decline in the selection of refugees from overseas under the designated class category. Quite aside from being a correlation, is the rise in one category somehow an indirect cause of a decline in the other category, perhaps unconsciously motivated?

To be continued.

Canada’s Inhumanitarian Record Part 1 on The Indo-Chinese Refugee Private Sponsorship Program

Canada’s Inhumanitarian Record

Part 1 on The Indochinese Refugee Private Sponsorship Program


Howard Adelman

This is the first of a series of blogs on the Indochinese refugee movement in which private sponsorship became a major force and with which I had become deeply involved in the foundation and development of Operation Lifeline. On the fortieth anniversary of the fall of Saigon, I have been treated royally by the Vietnamese community and presented with awards. Many memories have been brought to the surface. In another time and place I will deal with those direct experiences and invite readers to share their memories and reflections with me. This series of blogs has another purpose and will form part of a published academic paper. Feedback, comments and criticisms of the blogs would be most welcome.

The series will focus on a description, analysis and explanation of the rise of the private sponsorship movement in the late seventies and early eighties that was so essential to both the numbers and success of the resettlement of Indochinese refugees in Canada. In the Private Sponsorship Refugee (PSP) program of the Canadian government, Canada Immigration and Citizenship (CIC) facilitates the arrival of the refugees into Canada while sponsors provide care, lodging, settlement assistance and financial support. In the first thirty years of the program, almost 200,000 refugees and persons in refugee-like situations were resettled in Canada of which the Indochinese refugee resettlement constituted by far the single largest portion of the PSP program. While at the height of the Indochinese refugee movement, 6,000 were being resettled per month, in the twenty-first century that number has ranged from 230-330 per month (2,800 to 4,000 annually).

The blogs are less concerned with formulation of the policies, their precise expression at different stages and the role the private sector played in the successful integration of those refugees, about which I have written before (see, for example, Howard Adelman (1982) Canada and the Indochinese Refugees, Regina: L.A. Weigl Associates), but rather about the social and political context. The paper will analyze the global situation and the spirit or “geist” of the times in Canada, how that was expressed through religious institutions, the government, media and at the grass roots of society, and how that spirit allowed all sectors to come together to produce such a unique and extraordinary outcome.

Since the purpose of these blogs is not to offer a historical account of the rise of the refugee sponsorship movement, but rather to paint an in-depth cultural, social and political portrait of the times, I will be writing history both forwards and backwards at the same time, but not much about the forward developments to the emergence of the sponsorship movement, but forward from that emergence to the present to examine how much has changed. Further, based on a few contemporary focus groups and a more extensive social survey, and in the face of the enormous current refugee crisis, especially that of the Syrian refugees, these blogs will attempt to analyze why there has not been (and there is highly unlikely to be), a recurrence of such a large private sponsorship movement (as distinct from a number of sponsorships) in the present. I wish it were not so and I will continue to try to make it not so, but the analysis leads to the conclusion that such efforts will largely be quixotic. I begin by setting the stage of traveling backwards in time with “Now,” with current Canadian attitudes and approaches, contemporary Canadian policy and the regional and global refugee crisis.

Though not as consistent or repetitious as in the Boat People crisis of 1979, the media in the spring of 2015 has been filled with stories of boat people. Though there have been no stories of pirates preying on the refugees or of a plethora of rapes, the narratives of unscrupulous human smugglers, of unseaworthy and overloaded boats and of large numbers of drowned refugees have filled the news wires and the internet. In one single weekend alone at the beginning of May, the Italian coast guard assisted by French vessels rescued more than 6,800 refugees. In seven small wooden boats and nine dinghies that normally hold a maximum of 20 persons each (maximum 320 in total), there were 3,690 refugees rescued in one day on 2 May.

In 2014, over 170,000 refugees who risked the crossing from Africa to Europe were rescued.  In the first three days of May this year, the numbers rescued are already half of the number rescued in the whole of May last year. In April, an estimated 1,200 drowned, 800 in one incident that received worldwide publicity. In November of 2014, Italy ended its Mare Nostrum Mission on the argument that rescues promoted increased smuggling. The result, far more migrants drowned and still the flow kept increasing. Risk at sea is not a sufficient deterrent. Europe then launched Triton to rescue the migrants.

Canada, unlike Europe, does not have wave after wave of migrants trying to reach Canadian shores by sea. Yet our record of resettlement of refugees recently has been dismal. An op-ed published this past spring by Geraldine Sadoway and Andrew Brouwer (S&B), two prominent immigration lawyers in Toronto, began with a depiction of Canadian self-perception as a generous and humanitarian people and noted how Canada in 1986 was the only country ever to have been awarded the Nansen Medal – actually the only people, for the award had been given not to the state but to the people of Canada as a whole. Though Canada’s work on behalf of resettling Indochinese refugees was undoubtedly a catalyst in winning the award, formally the award was presented to “The People of Canada, in recognition of their essential and constant contribution (my italics) to the cause of refugees within their country and around the world. Canada is a leading contributor to international humanitarian and refugee aid programmes. Canada has, from the beginning, supported international efforts on behalf of refugees. It has one of the best records for resettlement of refugees and is a leading UNHCR donor.”

S&B challenged the view that the humanitarian streak had been essential or constant in Canadian history. Rather, it has been sporadic and intermittent, with a strong history of bias against refugees. Humanitarianism had not been much in evidence at all in dealing with Jewish refugees prior to WW II, but even at the height of the Indochinese refugee movement, as S&B pointed out, the Canadian government imposed a visa requirement on Chileans fleeing the repressive regime of General Pinochet that had come to power in a coup in September 1973.

What S&B leave out, and what Eva Salinas documented in a Globe and Mail story forty years later on 8 September 2013, is how Canadian embassy officials in Santiago, particularly the First Secretary Marc Dolgin, with the assistance of his colleague David Adam, helped Chileans, one in particular, Claudio Duran, a colleague of mine hired into the philosophy department of Atkinson College at York University as soon as he arrived in Canada when I was chair. He had initially obtained sanctuary in the Canadian embassy. Canada relatively soon after the coup designated Chileans as a special class of designated immigrants who could enter Canada under very relaxed immigration criteria, the same criteria subsequently applied to the Indochinese refugees.

This was in spite of the fact that Andrew Ross, the Canadian ambassador, who was stuck abroad at the time of the coup and was not in Santiago, supported the new Pinochet regime and called Chilean leftists “riff-raff” and rationalized their killing as “abhorrent but understandable.” Perhaps that is one reason why Canada between 1973 and 1978 only took in 13,000 of the 200,000 Chilean refugees who fled the country. However, in that case, without the pressure of the mainline churches, without the pressure from opposition New Democrats like Andrew Brewin and another colleague, John Harney who was then an NDP member of parliament, without the November report of a highly respected External Affairs bureaucrat, Geoffrey Pearson, contradicting the views of Andrew Ross, without the leadership of the then Minister of Immigration, Bob Andras, without a Liberal Cabinet that quickly discredited the views of Ross, and without widespread support by the media, the Canadian program “Special Movement Chile” would never have achieved “lift-off”.

As John Foster and Bob Carty noted in their 12 September 2013 on-line article, the Canadian response to the Chilean crisis was “a contradictory mix of official resistance, personal courage and citizen activism energized by Canadian churches with a persistence that outpaced government refusals.” On the other hand, the government of the day became convinced of the need to act. They did so using the full range of tools at its disposal: the refugee program for those who got out of Chile, the oppressed minority policy for people still in Chile, and a special program for  political prisoners that managed to spring something like 200 political prisoners and their families and bring them to Canada. The  last two morphed into the Latina American Designated Class  as soon as the 1976 Immigration Act made that tool available. When the Indochinese refugee program began in 1978, some cabinet ministers expressed the fear that engagement with the Indochinese refugees might be at the cost of the Chileans.

This has been the record, inconsistency rather than constancy, contradictory rather than essential behaviour. Although the 1986 Nansen Award was for the people of Canada, and was presented to Governor General Sauvé by the High Commissioner of the United Nations, on the dais were the Honourable Flora MacDonald, then Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, the Honourable Gerry Weiner, then Minister of State (Immigration) and Michael Schelew, then President of the Canadian Council for Refugees (CCR) that had worked most assiduously primarily on the asylum side of the refugee issue, though his cousin, Wendy Schelew, became the senior official in charge of Operation Lifeline. There were no representatives of the Mennonites, the Christian Reformed Church or Operation Lifeline that had led in the private sponsorship of refugees, though Michael Schelew personally had been active in private sponsorship and the CCR strongly supported refugee resettlement whatever the route into Canada.

What S&B highlighted was that, even during the height of the Indochinese humanitarian impulse, the Canadian government (along with its western allies) had begun to put in place a system of visa controls, penalties on carriers that transport undocumented foreigners, a system that pushed border controls to embarkation points and not just at entry points, eventually closed the Canadian-U.S. border to the entry of refugee claimants without family links under the Safe Third Country Agreement, put so many refugee claimants in holding centres, then, even if they gained refugee status, prevented them from sponsoring other members of their family because they used an “irregular” route to get to Canada, and even included among those subject to punishment not only or even primarily the people traffickers and smugglers, but those who help refugees reach and stay in Canada and do so for strictly humanitarian reasons.

Iran: U.S.-Israeli Relations

Iran Again – CONTINUED: Final Part: U.S.-Israeli Relations


Howard Adelman

Several weeks ago, Samantha Power in her testimony before the Senate Foreign Operations Committee insisted that the U.S. would continue to work closely with Israel at the UN but could no longer be counted on to prevent resolutions targeting Israel to be defeated. In fact, she went further. The U.S. could not be counted on NOT to help advance such resolutions. Essentially, the U.S. might support a resolution on the Palestine-Israel peace process that would set deadlines and establish markers in working towards a final settlement of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in order to get the negotiations back on track.  As U.S. Undersecretary of State Wendy Sherman warned: if the new Israeli government does not demonstrate its commitment to the two-state solution, the U.S. will have a difficult time halting international initiatives on the Palestinian issue at the United Nations. Since then, tit for tat followed. Netanyahu rejected Kerry’s request to visit Israel to discuss the negotiations with the Palestinians immediately after the Israeli national Elections took place.

Netanyahu’s statements leading up to election day suggesting the two-state solution was dead, and his formation of the most right-wing government Israel has ever had, put in doubt his support of a two-state solution and, hence, America’s unquestioning support for Israel in the international arena. Bibi had renounced his intentions to establish a Palestinian state as no longer relevant given recent events in the Middle East and in light of the security reality in the region. Even more unequivocally, in the dying days of the election he said that that if he becomes prime minister once again, a Palestinian state would not be created.

Hence the American reaction. U.S. support would continue, but it would henceforth be questioned. As Wendy Sherman said, “If the new Israeli government is seen to be stepping back from its commitment to a two-state solution that will make our job in the international arena much tougher… it will be harder for us to prevent internationalizing the conflict.” After the election, Netanyahu attempted to backtrack on those statements when he said once again that he supported a two-state solution, but only if circumstances changed. However, he did not go nearly far enough in moving the U.S. away from signalling its reformulated policy.

France, which had been relatively hawkish on the Iran nuclear negotiations, was leading the initiative to internationalize the Israeli-Palestinian dispute and to prepare and pass a new Security Council resolution that would both delineate the principles of determining borders (1967 borders modified by territorial exchanges) and recognize the Palestinian authority as the governing body over those territories. Israel would no longer be able to declare the territories are in dispute. Thus, Bibi’s efforts to push regime change in Tehran de facto when linked with his withdrawal of efforts to end the status quo in the West Bank became mutually reinforcing positions that triggered the shift in policy underway in the White House, especially when matched by a corresponding effort of Iran to tone down its radical rhetoric. Iran wearing a moderate face mask combined with the resurrection of Bibi’s ostensible support for the continuation of the occupation and effective support for a Greater Israel worked in tandem to undermine America’s previous position.

After all, in Obama’s 2009 Cairo speech, he had pledged not to turn America’s back “on the legitimate Palestinian aspiration for dignity, opportunity and a state of their own,” a pledge that could not be honoured if the new Bibi government remained true to its pre-election pledges and shunted sideward the pursuit of a two-state solution. Bibi might claim that he was ending the settlement freeze because his pledge on the freeze was made in tandem with the American pledge to work to increase pressure on Iran through the use of increased sanctions; when America lifted the sanctions, the new Israeli government felt free to end the settlement freeze. So the Israeli government and Washington were sending signals across each other’s bows that changes in policy were underway.

Other moves in America by Netanyahu’s allies in Congress can be viewed in terms of American Executive Power and the Israeli government traveling in ships going in opposite directions. They pause briefly to wave, professing to be mutually supportive, and follow with threats. At the same time, Bibi’s allies in Congress launched their own attacks on the White House from the rear.

The American Senate in mid-April amended the Bipartisan Congressional Trade Priorities and Accountability Act of 2015. The bill was the most ambitious effort ever in continuing efforts to open trade. U.S. negotiations with the Asia-Pacific and the EU were advertised as an opportunity to set high standards and open markets with nearly 1 billion consumers, covering nearly two-thirds of global GDP, and 65% of global trade. Services negotiations cover about 50% of global GDP, as well, and over 70% of global services trade. But the Act included a sneaker. As an example, Section 2(b) 9 reads:

Localization Barriers to Trade: The principal negotiating objective regarding localization barriers to trade, set out in subparagraph 2(b)(9), is to eliminate and prevent measures that require U.S. producers and service providers to locate facilities, intellectual property, or other assets in a country as a market access or investment condition, including indigenous innovation measures.

These and other clauses counter the efforts of BDS to boycott goods made in the settlements; the Act de facto defined the West Bank and Israel as part of the same legal territory, thereby setting in motion the U.S. recognizing a one-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

In another sign of a radical shift by the new extreme right-wing government in Israel, Yinon Migal has acted as the flag waver. He is a newly minted member of the Knesset in Bennett’s Jewish Home Party. He accused a former director of the Israeli Foreign Ministry, Alon Liel, of being guilty of treason for advocating the two-state solution.  For in doing so, Liel was accused of ceding territory to a prospective sovereign state that does not now exist. Violating section 97 (d) of the penal code provides that any action to remove any area from the sovereignty of the State or to place it under the sovereignty of a foreign state with the intention to bring that about is liable to the death penalty or to life imprisonment. This is but another sign of the new extremism in Israel in contention with a more aggressive dovish approach from the White House.

Netanyahu’s partisanship and heightened rhetoric on the Iran nuclear prospective agreement combined with his backpedalling on the two-state solution have not brought about a collision between Washington and Tel Aviv. It has brought about a situation in which both countries are beginning to work at odds pursuing radically opposite agendas. The framework deal, if confirmed by a completed deal – very far from certain itself – has altered both the balance of power in the region and the previously balanced relationship between Washington and Tel Aviv. Such a divergence will limit America’s ability to ensure that Israel can retain its nuclear deterrent without international supervision. It may also modify America’s willingness, indeed eagerness, to fund advances in Israeli missile technology and defensive capabilities.

The rhetoric from both sides insists that nothing fundamental has changed in Israeli-American relations. This is but smoke and mirrors to hide fundamental shifts already underway. For, in the view of the current American administration, the best response to Iran’s efforts is to make the deal because, if a military solution is eventually required, America will be in a better position to deliver a response than without a deal. As Netanyahu becomes more and more irrelevant on the terms of the deal to be made by the target date of 30 June and, in his impotence, becoming increasingly hysterical rather than rational, he loses even more credibility with the White House.

Bibi’s only hope to salvaging the Israeli-American tight bond is if the framework agreement falls apart over the issue of the timing of the lifting of sanctions and/or over veto proof anti-deal legislation passed in Congress. For what Netanyahu most fears is not simply that a final deal will come to fruition in spite of the difficulties still faced, but that the deal will hold and Iran will stick to its terms. Then Bibi will be truly in deep sh…  with America and with the Israeli voters as well for he will be unable to cry wolf when dealing with Iran or avoid dealing with the serious economic disparities within Israel unless saved by Kahlon.

The reality is that the P5+1 and Iran have struck a reasonably good deal, one that is far from perfect and which still faces many hurdles before and if it is finalized. But, as CIA Director John Brennan concluded, “I, for one, am pleasantly surprised that the Iranians have agreed to so much here.” I too was equally surprised. The framework agreement was both far more detailed than expected and provided more concessions by the Iranians than most observers expected. Natanz will – again if the deal comes to fruition – be the only nuclear enrichment facility. Its degree of enrichment will be strictly restricted and monitored. Fordow will be converted to a research facility. Arak will not be able to produce plutonium. The high speed centrifuges will be mothballed and even the number of slow centrifuges will be kept to 5,000 in operation, not quite the 3,000 that Israel wanted, but far better than the 19,000 available. The stock of highly enriched uranium will be gone and even the stockpile of low enriched uranium will be dramatically reduced.

The real problem for Netanyahu is that Israel will now face a much strengthened conventional foe but without any longer having the almost unquestioning support of its patron. The scenario that Netanyahu most feared is about to descend on Israel unless the deal with Iran can be sabotaged before it is completed.

And there is some potential. There are many issues to be resolved. There is not only the problem of defining when sanctions will be lifted. There is, for example, the issue of the form in which the minimally enriched uranium is to be stored. Most of the uranium enriched to almost 20% has been reduced to well below 5% and no longer exists in hexafluoride form. However, a residue (228 kg.) of enriched uranium to almost 20% continues to exit: 43 kg in oxide powder; 60 kg, that has not been irradiated slated to be used for the Tehran Research Reactor and, therefore, still available for easy conversion and further enrichment to nuclear level fuel; the remainder of the 228 kg remaining as scrap, waste or is in the process of being decommissioned.

How will the P5+1 and Iran deal with this issue since Iran is only to retain very limited amounts of uranium enriched above 3.67% sufficient for research purposes? The devil is indeed in the details. And these details are being negotiated as I write. Some will inevitably become crisis points in the discussions. Past track records suggest that solutions will be found. But perhaps not. Perhaps events will intervene and alter the tone of the negotiations. Perhaps personal animosities or spoilers will disrupt the discussions. These types of negotiations are perilous at the best of times. The Perils of Pauline look tame beside them. There will be no cakewalk to 30 June for everyone knows that if Iran retains even 50 kg. of medium enriched uranium to almost 20%, enough highly enriched uranium could be available in 8 rather than 12 months to make a nuclear weapon.

The most hawkish government in Israeli history will be trumpeting such obstacles as efforts of Iran to undercut a bad deal and make it even worse. Further, on the Palestinian front, Obama will be berated for handing over to the Palestinian Authority the internationalized right of Palestinians to govern themselves while the same authority allegedly refuses to grant Jews that right, while that authority works at delegitimizing Israel in an effort to kill the state of Israel by a thousand slices. It will not matter that these charges bear only a slight resemblance to reality. Yet those same extreme hawkish Israeli voices will agree with Bibi’s left critics that Israel will have to develop new strategies “to cope with our deteriorating relations with the U.S.” (Caroline Glick), a matter made urgent by the excellent possibility that Hilary Clinton may be the next president in a world far more volatile and lethal than when her husband was president.

What is the advice on how to cope? Not abandoning Israeli policies and strategies but reducing dependence of the U.S. Further, Bibi’s efforts to bypass the President and go directly to the American people must be enhanced. In other words, more of the same tactics, even accelerating such tactics, though it was precisely these tactics that led to the debacle in the first place.

But that will not be how Bibi’s supporters of his undiplomatic diplomacy will portray Israeli actions. Rather than pinning the tail on Israel, they will try to pin responsibility for the deterioration on Obama for ensuring that Iran becomes a member of the nuclear club. The accusation will be tossed about as if it were an established truth rather than a piece of ugly propaganda with little basis in fact or analysis. Instead, the accusers will insist that Obama administration officials in a rogue regime have led the U.S. to abandon its policy of denying Iran the right or ability to acquire nuclear weapons. Instead, the White House will be portrayed as accommodating Iran’s quest to become a nuclear power, a charge so discrepant with actual facts as to make one wonder if such hysterics are real or simply the mouthings of a mad person, mad in the opposite way to the idealistic Madwoman of Chaillot, but both nevertheless totally detached from reality.

Instead, Israel will be urged to ignore the deal and go its own way militarily and strike Iran. This is the self-destructive logical conclusion of the folly of hyping Masada as a historic noble action instead of what actually happened as can best be determined by the historical record. When myth becomes the foundation of policy, self-destructive strategies are advocated. Israel will also be urged to abandon the Oslo agreement and once more take full control over the West Bank or, as the imperial Israeli hawks insist on calling the territory, Judea and Samaria. Hamas and the Israeli right will be united in their pursuit of a single-state solution, differing only on which party will control that state.

Do not expect these hysterical voices to die down. Rather they will now be propagated through megaphones while on the ground Israeli-U.S. relations will be further weakened and while Israel will be egged on to supersede one self-destructive policy with another one even more self-destructive.

This is the result of trading whispers for rants, analysis for inflammatory rhetoric and informed deliberation with deformed and virtually surrealistic portraits of the world that are figments of nightmares rather than bearing any significant correspondence with reality.


Iran Again – CONTINUED: Part 3: The Zionist Union Position

Iran Again – CONTINUED: Part 3: The Zionist Union Position


Howard Adelman

I will begin with the position of Isaac Herzog (Buji) and the Zionist Block, both because it picks up on the query on whether Buji is also a hawk and agrees with Netanyahu (Bibi) on Iran and because the discussion is a great segue into an analysis of the effects of the dispute over the Iran nuclear deal on Israeli-U.S. relations. To set up the discussion, I begin with an analysis of Maj. Gen. (res.) Amos Yadlin’s essay posted on the Institute for National Security website. Yadlin, its director, is a former head of Israeli intelligence (2006-2010) who was slated to become Defense Minister if the Zionist Block won. He had served the IDF for decades and had been a deputy commander of the Israeli Air Force and had commanded two flight squadrons and two air bases. Two weeks after the framework agreement between the P5+1 and Iran was announced, Yadlin posted his essay.

There is nothing radically new in the essay. It reiterates themes he has stressed for years. Before even the Plan of Action in dealing with Iran was announced, Yadlin had emphasized in speech after speech the fundamental foundation of Israeli security – a strong alliance with the U.S. For Yadlin, that foundation is built on the strategic analysis that the U.S. and Israel share common security interests and that the U.S. can rely on Israel as an ally as an important strategic asset. The foundation is based on key common interests, interests which have grown with the rise of radical Islam and the recent turmoil throughout the Middle East.

There is a major difference however. While both allies share the strategic goal of preventing Iran from developing nuclear weapons, the two countries have different timelines with Israel wanting and needing Iran to remain non-nuclear for a much longer period. Further, for the U.S., it is acceptable if the nuclear and the weaponization programs are dealt with as separate baskets. But for Israelis, the two issues are inseparable. In the build-up towards the Israeli elections this past winter, Yadlin’s own vision of the foundation for Israeli security came into stark relief. Yadlin did not hold back in attacking Netanyahu and Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon.

First, Yadlin echoes the criticism that Bibi was not only interfering in Obama’s relations with Congress, but was doing so to make domestic capital  in the IsraeIi elections, a charge I have refrained from making. For Yadlin, interfering between the President and Congress is equivalent to original sin. Israel has always relied on a major power for military and strategic purposes. In recent decades, the U.S. has been Israel’s sole protector. Therefore, when initiating any foreign policy action, Israel must act in tandem with the U.S., though not always with American endorsement. Hence the mantra: it is forbidden that Israel become an issue of contention between the U.S. and Israel. 

Though I focus on the nuclear issue and foreign policy towards Iran, this premise applies to Israeli relations with the Palestinians and Israeli actions on the Golan, for both will necessarily be affected by a fallout between the American president and Israel. This will be especially true as the Palestinian Authority seeks to go the international route both through the court in The Hague and through the Palestinians requesting a new motion in the Security Council. As Yadlin repeatedly stated, a speech in Congress would do nothing to forge better relations with the Executive branch of the American government, whereas utilizing discrete channels with America’s National Security Council, the Pentagon, and Secretary of State may. As he reiterated, “The Iranian nuclear program will be stopped by using wisdom, along with operational and political measures. The cooperation with the United States is critical for this.” Yadlin accused Netanyahu of causing enormous damage to the need for collaboration between Israel and its allies.

In that line, Yadlin wrote about how to bridge the gap between Israel and Washington. Netanyahu had himself backpedalled to the same position, moving from an insistence that Iran’s total nuclear capacity be dismantled to acceptance that it would and could not be. But the shift was barely noticed in the rhetoric denouncing the deal. The Zionist Union and Likud are on the same page on some issues that differentiate both Israeli groups from Washington. They are: 1) threat perception and the difference between an existential and simply a military threat; 2) the weight of history Israelis as Jews carry versus American fears of getting bogged down in another unwinnable war; 3) given these as well as the enormous huge gap between American and Israeli capabilities, Israel wants a much longer period to a breakout than one year; 4) given all of that, Israel needs a firmer and less flexible redline than the U.S.; and 5) the greater unwillingness of the U.S. to contemplate the alternative of war and the recognition by the U.S. of the fluidity of the sanctions regime then considered to be operating at its peak whereas military action remains on the front burner in Israeli strategic planning.

On all of these issues, the Zionist Block shares a common outlook with Bibi. They differ on whether these differences demand confrontation or greater coordination. But instead of cooperating in the negotiations, Bibi opted for confrontation. Instead of ironing out the difference between insisting on a maximum of 3,000 versus 6,500 operating centrifuges, America negotiated hard but only managed to whittle the number down to 5,000, but did win a concession that they would all be old-style slow centrifuges. America did come close to the Israeli target of getting the enriched uranium stockpile down from 9,000 kg. to 300. Israel wanted the deal to be enforced for twenty years. The U.S. settled for a mixture of 10 years on some issues and 15 on others. Further, the accountability and inspection system was made mandatory. As Israel wanted, both Fordow and Arak are to be made inoperable for producing nuclear weapons. The big difference which unites the U.S. and Israel against Iran to this day is whether relief from sanctions will be gradual upon proof of compliance or whether relief will be total upon signing the agreement.

In effect, when the deal was announced the terms demonstrated that the U.S. was much closer to the Israeli fallback position than most observers expected. What Yadlin then called for was developing a joint U.S.-Israeli plan for dealing with failures in compliance. But instead of cooperation and coordination, Bibi chose confrontation. In Amos Yadlin’s interpretation, analysis and recommendations concerning the Framework Agreement, entitled, “The Lausanne Statement on the Iranian Nuclear Program: Insights and Recommendations” (6 April 2015), Yadlin focused on what was needed to strengthen the deal, not on Israeli differences with the White House over the deal. Hence the Zionist Block position calling for intensive talks with the U.S. administration as the negotiations for a final agreement proceed to ensure clarification on some murky areas and that appear to Israeli strategic thinkers as “problematic.” Isaac Herzog and Tzipi Livni both echoed this message. Further, they emphasized the point of coming to an agreement over an alternative plan if Iran does violate the agreement.

I have gone into such detail because this is very far from a hawkish position. Just because the Zionist Block agreed with the fallback position of Netanyahu, to repeat, often totally obscured by his own rhetoric, they radically disagreed on the severity of the differences between the U.S. and Israel and on how to deal with those differences. As the Zionist Union policy document stated: “Instead of a policy that leaves Israel without a meaningful influence on the world powers’ decision-making process, Israel must immediately hold a comprehensive, intimate and deep strategic discussion with the U.S. about all of the relevant issues and to complete the discussion before the completion of the final agreement.” As a last resort, the Zionist Union wanted to get a U.S. agreement that if Iran breaches its commitments, the option of a military strike will be on the table, or, at the very least, Israel will be permitted to exercise that option.

Thus, when one gets into the nitty gritty, especially when comparing Netanyahu’s fallback position with that of the Zionist Block,  the disagreements between the Zionist Union and Netanyahu are no more substantive than the differences between Israel and the U.S. As Herzog said, “We are committed to a determined, all-out fight to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon and continue to give full support to this cause…In this matter, there is no division between the coalition and the opposition.”

However, the tactics of handling those differences are radically at odds. Netanyahu’s tactics deeply undermined U.S.-Israeli relations. Further, Netanyahu continued to insist on shutting down far more facilities in Iran than the P5+1 agreed to. As well, he insisted that sanctions only be lifted, not only when Iran was in full compliance with the terms of the deal, but when Iran ends its “aggression in the region, its worldwide terrorism, and its threats to annihilate Israel.” The add-ons as well as the radical difference in tactics, but not in goals, whether sincerely or politically motivated, would in every expert’s estimation sink the deal.

What really dramatically differentiates Buji from Bibi in the management of the Iran-U.S. file is that Buji refuses to follow Bibi’s lead in openly challenging Israel’s chief benefactor and protector, diplomatic defender and military supplier. Buji trusts Obama to get the best deal possible. Bibi distrusts Obama and characterizes any deal in apocalyptic terms as the worst possible. Buji characterizes Bibi’s approach as one which “led us to a situation of total lack of trust—total lack of trust between the administrations or their leaders. Now it’s essential—it’s essential to have trust between the leaders, not only the professionals, not only the government level, but the leaders. It’s a fact. It’s a fact that there is no trust at all between the president and the prime minister.”

Buji did not ape Bibi’s position on Iran. Instead he emphasized both the fundamental commonality as well as the radical differences. They reveal clearly that Isaac Herzog is not a hawk. Further, the suggestion that when the Zionist Union position paper on the Lausanne Framework agreement came out and said that the agreement was “an issue on which there is no coalition or opposition,” that Herzog was making an underhanded bid for a grand coalition in which he would be made Foreign Minister, has no foundation. Read the text. The differences are made perfectly clear. So are the agreements about Iran as a threat. But the two sides differ radically on how to deal with the negotiations in general and the relations with the United States in particular. The paper does not present the framework agreement as a negative development, but, on the contrary, as a positive agreement that could be improved. Further, the proposals for improvement are not “similar, or even identical, to a list of changes” proposed by Netanyahu. There are some overlaps, but the two leaders are traveling in opposite directions though, in Buji’s statement, towards the same goal.

Tomorrow: Iran Again – CONTINUED: Part 4: The U.S.-Israeli Relations

Iran Again – CONTINUED: Part 2

Iran Again – CONTINUED: Part 2


Howard Adelman

Before I move on to discuss items 5-10 as listed in my last blog, two issues have been raised concerning my interpretation last week of Obama’s views based on his interview on National Public Radio and another with Tom Friedman of The New York Times. In particular, I was asked why I did not deconstruct two other assertions made by President Obama in those interviews.

First, let me deal with the interview Obama had with Tom Friedman of The New York Times. Obama said to Friedman that, “I’ve been very clear that Iran will not get a nuclear weapon on my watch.” Immediately, Obama was jumped on and criticized, not because he wanted his legacy protected, but because he seemed to be saying, in one interpretation, that he was satisfied with any deal as long as Iran could not get a nuclear weapon while he was president. Even Ari Shavit (My Promised Land), not known as a hawk, in his Ha’aretz column chimed in, “the man leading a hair-raising historic adventure says he’s committing that Iran will not become nuclear before January 20, 2017.”

This satiric response and the interpretation behind it does not consider a far more obvious alternative interpretation much more consistent with what Obama has said many times and in many other places. Obama was not saying that he would be satisfied with a deal as long as Iran did not get a nuclear weapon while he was president. Rather, while he was president, he did not want Iran to have the capacity to build a nuclear weapon, a situation which would have to continue long after he left the presidency. Obama did want a legacy, and was not ducking out on the issue in favour of a short term gain. .

The second statement is slightly more tricky and is part of what he said when I offered my analysis in my last blog. In that interview with National Public Radio, Obama said, “What is a more relevant fear would be that in Year 13, 14, 15, they have advanced centrifuges that enrich uranium fairly rapidly, and at that point, the breakout times would have shrunk almost down to zero.” As I indicated in my last blog, Obama was not endorsing this fear as a consequence of the agreement, but pointing to an alternative scenario, another possible world, in the ten to fifteen year period when Iran would have high speed centrifuges that could enrich uranium at least twenty times as fast and could produce enough enriched uranium in days to make a nuclear weapon. In contrast, after the restrictions imposed on Iran by the deal and after thirteen years of inspecting Iran’s nuclear program, the combination of tough scaling back and widespread and thorough inspections would be the best alternative available to prevent the emergence of such a scenario.

With those clarifications and additions, let me return to finishing the agenda of topics listed in my previous blog.

The Consequences of Obama’s Action

  1. Obama’s Legacy

My original reader who instigated this blog claimed that Obama was using the Iran agreement to build his legacy. I agree. Obama is indeed trying to build his legacy. As he should. Let me, in turn, engage in imagining possible worlds by considering what the legacy would be if Netanyahu and his Republican allies are able to scupper the deal. I am not merely talking about legitimate criticisms of the need to clarify and elaborate on certain aspects of the deal. I am talking about the thrust to kill a deal altogether. For make no mistake, though the statements made are that these critics are not against a deal per se, but only against a bad deal, the nature of their criticisms indicate that no achievable deal would satisfy them.

If the Republicans succeed in blowing up the deal – assuming it does not implode on its own given the difficulties remaining – what would the legacy be? First, the most serious blow would be inflicted on the western alliance of states since the Suez Crisis in 1956. Even though France has been more hawkish about the deal than Washington (more on this later), the U.S. coalition with Britain, France and Germany, not to mention Russia and China, would be shattered beyond recognition. Further, since those nations would go ahead with lifting sanctions, since the agreement made was not simply between Iran and the U.S., but between Iran and the P5+1, those other states would go ahead and lift sanctions thereby rendering a unilateral U.S. sanctions regime far less effective. Since the deal would be endorsed by the UNSC, because of American Congressional action, America would be isolated diplomatically, a situation that would have drastic negative effects on all other areas of American foreign policy except with Israel and Canada.

Further, since the negotiation route did not work, since the economic sanctions regime would emerge far weaker, the only third route to pressuring Iran would be a military strike against Iran’s nuclear facilities. Quite aside from the question of how effective such an attack would be, such an initiative runs totally contrary to American public opinion. Even the majority of Republican voters are opposed to war with Iran.

Yet Bill Kristol, John McCain, John Bolton and Lindsey Graham all call for bombing Iran. If a deal is forged this summer based on the framework document, and if, admittedly a big if, Iran upholds its end of the bargain, Obama’s legacy in foreign affairs would be assured as Nixon’s was as a result of ping-pong diplomacy and the opening up to China. For instead of 19,000 centrifuges, thousands of the newer high speed design, Iran would retain only just over 5,000 operating centrifuges of the old slow type. All of its enriched Uranium beyond 3.29% would be gone. The Arak facility would no longer be able to produce plutonium. Iran’s nuclear program would be subject to an unprecedented inspection regime. What a terrific legacy in contrast to the possible legacy of choosing the alternative path.

6. A Reckless Huge Gamble.

But what if the deal does not work? What if Iran cheats? Isn’t Obama gambling on Iran keeping its word? Not really. First numerous safeguards have been put in place, such as the inspection regime itself, suspending rather than retracting sanctions, and including a snap-back provision. This is not akin to Munich in 1938 where Hitler conceded nothing and Chamberlain gave away the store. In these negotiations, Iran was the country giving and the allies were only removing pressure and not giving anything substantive away.

Nor is this deal comparable to lifting sanctions and making a deal with the South African government that left apartheid in place. For the sanctions against South Africa were not imposed to ensure that South Africa did not develop a nuclear program but precisely because the government ruled to keep apartheid in place.

Further, if Iran cheats, the West would still be better off, for much more would be known about Iran’s capabilities and Iran would be far further from making a bomb than at present. I do not believe that Obama is being reckless in making a deal. On this occasion, his team is performing brilliantly. In my evaluation of the deal, it is a gamble in a number of areas, but I believe the team has behaved with remarkable prudence.

The real gamble is not in the nuclear area but over Iran’s enhancing its missile capability, its support of radical insurrections in the region, its antipathy to Israel and its own enhancement as a regional power. Last week, news reports went out of Iranian Navy Revolutionary Guards boarding and seizing a Marshall Islands flagged container ship, the Maersk Tigris, in the Strait of Hormuz (between the Persian Gulf and the Gulf of Oman). USS Farragut as part of the U.S. Naval Force Central Command in Bahrain responded to the distress call. The U.S. has a defence treaty with the Marshall Islands that gives the U.S. the authority and responsibility for acting on behalf of that sovereign state. Further, since that aggressive action by Iranian naval units, the U.S. announced a policy of providing a naval escort for commercial vessels using the Strait of Hormuz.

My conviction is that this is simply a signal that the nuclear deal will not temper Iran’s ambitions in the Persian Gulf or the region, will not dampen its support for “terrorism”, will not diminish its desire to become a regional power and will certainly do less than nothing to diminish its antipathy to Israel. Those optimists who think it will, I believe, will be proven wrong but I hope they are correct and I am wrong. On the other hand, those pessimists who would gamble away a chance to make Iran a non-nuclear state in terms of military weapons because they insist that the nuclear negotiations should achieve much broader goals are the ones taking the huge gamble. An Iran in pursuit of those goals using those means would be worse if it had nuclear weapons than an Iran doing so without those weapons or the capabilities of manufacturing them even when relief from the sanctions increases its room for manoeuvrability and its capacity to be troublesome.

This is the real gamble. I am unsure who is correct in their prognostications. However, I think it is absolutely disingenuous to take this risk under the cover that the main concern is over Iran acquiring nuclear weapons. To use the issue of the acquisition of nuclear weapons as an unstated and unacknowledged stalking horse in the hope (misplaced in my mind) of achieving other strategic regional goals, is the height of irresponsibility.

Make no mistake. Iran would like to destroy Israel. As Commander Mohammad Reza Naqdi stated, “Destroying Israel is non-negotiable.” For the Iranian leadership, whether in the dovish or hawkish camp, Israel is a Zionist cancer in the region. Perhaps the difference between the Iranian hawks and the doves is that the hawks include all Jews whereas the doves restrict their horrific characterization only to Jewish Israelis. This position will be unlikely to change as long as the reign of the ayatollahs continues, with or without nuclear weapons. If Iran is to continue to have such a goal, I much prefer that the leadership espouse such a nauseous aspiration without rather than with a strong capacity to make nuclear weapons in a relatively short span of time. Further, such an outcome has the added benefit that when Iran enunciates such a repugnant aspiration, Western leaders might feel freer to denounce such a goal. But I do not hold much hope for that. I suspect that as Western economic interests are enhanced with the increasing prospect of more trade with Iran, Western leaders will be more inclined to hold their tongues. Silence in the face of such libels is the problem, not negotiating with exterminationists.

7. Legal Defense to Insulate Himself (Obama) from Fault

On this issue, Obama needs no legal defence. Right or wrong, he is making a political judgment, not committing treason. The use of such language is insulting as well as irresponsible.

  1. If No Deal, Iran would have Gone Nuclear

This is an interesting point because I suspect that even if there were no deal, Iran would not travel along the path of developing nuclear weapons. Many of those promoting the deal with Iran suggest this as the alternative to a deal. It may be. However, I suspect that Iran merely wants, and feels it needs, to have the capacity to do so. Further, the capacity alone facilitates its policy goals without the moral opprobrium accompanying the acquisition of nuclear weapons. Iran would lose its ability to broadcast its moral superiority over Israel. Further, if it acquired weapons, Iran would prove that its insistence that its nuclear program was only for peaceful purposes would be falsified. The risk, I believe, of a failed deal, is not Iran acquiring the weapons, but the continuing threat of its developing an enhanced capacity to do so, and to do so in a shorter and shorter time.

8.Characterization of the Opponents of the Deal as Hawks

As for calling those opposed to the deal “hawks,” that is the general nomenclature used by both those who believe in war and coercive diplomacy as a frontline strategy versus doves who. believe in war only as a last resort when other alternatives fail. Doves fail when their insistence on taking all factors into consideration and attempting another round of talking leads to serious and fatal delays in the necessity to use coercive force rather than relying only on diplomacy. Hawks fail when their knee-jerk responses undermine both security and stability and often end up involving America in wars that are destructive for the people in whose countries the wars are fought and for America. The latter has been true from Vietnam to Iraq.

Hawks tend to raise important but relatively small side issues as major barriers to an agreement — such as allowing Iran continued use of centrifuges for research. But if Iran is to be allowed to have a peaceful nuclear program, a premise to the negotiations in the first place, then it follows that Iran must have the ability to undertake nuclear research as long as it is confined to peaceful objectives. The difficulty here is that some of that research serves both purposes. That only means that reasonable judgment is required, not slogans. Iran’s use of proxies in the Gulf to enhance its power is extraneous to the negotiations for a very different reason than peripheral issues within the negotiations. Hawks tend to blend the two types and forcefully harp on the outlier issues as well as those that do not belong to the same solar system.

Criticism that the deal fails to address all or even most of the problems in the region is simply off the mark. It is a distraction, not a critique, for those who prefer no deal in the name of a better and unachievable one. And it feeds into those in Europe and elsewhere who believe that elements in the U.S. have positioned America as the wrong leader of the free world. For extreme hawks, Iran is so fundamentally evil that no deal should ever be negotiated with the regime even when a deal entails Iran surrendering the vast majority of its nuclear program.

What I find most repugnant in some hawks is their contempt for traditional American principles in the name of protecting those principles. Though I personally would prefer more oversight on foreign policy by the elected legislature in that democratic monarchy called the United States of America, to have the purveyors of an unrestricted imperial presidency now insisting that the president be hidebound and shackled in negotiations when the presidential office is occupied by a dove seems to me to be the height of hypocrisy. Why challenge the limited role of the Senate to advise and consent when a dove is in office but omit real oversight when imperial presidents occupy the highest office? And to do so by echoing Netanyahu’s false claim that the deal paves the way for Iran acquiring nuclear weapons just multiplies that hypocrisy for it was the hawks who wanted to blast Iran to smithereens because the existing Iranian nuclear capability was “the greatest threat to the U.S.” For hawks, eliminating that threat was an immediate priority. However when the significant reduction to that threat is led by a dovish president using diplomacy rather than coercion, it becomes totally suspect.

9. France as a Hawk

As for the hawkishness of the French on the negotiations, my reader was correct. France has historically been more hawkish on Iran than even the U.S. Gérard Araud, France’s ambassador in Washington, opposed setting deadlines for agreements. “Repeating that an agreement has to be reached by the end of March is a bad tactic,” he wrote because it put pressure on the allies to conclude an agreement at too high a price. Just two weeks before the framework deal was concluded, French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius insisted that, “France wants an agreement, but a robust one that really guarantees that Iran can have access to civilian nuclear power, but not the atomic bomb.” However, although France has consistently struck a tougher posture in its dealing with Iran, it was not pretending to want a better deal so that no deal could be concluded. France supported the deal agreed upon.

France used to be a leader in international diplomacy. It has never adjusted to its role as a second tier player. The French feel a sense of superiority in their skills in conducting negotiations, and, to some degree, they are correct. The same people have been in charge for a decade and have had a continuous engagement with respect to the Iranian portfolio in contrast to the turnover in the American administration. But Americans have often been very creative innovators as they were in the negotiations between Sudan and its breakaway south. However, French feel far more involved with Iran both because of its historical relations with that country and its involvement in Lebanon.

I will deal with the issue of Herzog being a hawk in my next blog focused on the effects of the deal on U.S.-Israel relations.

Tomorrow: Iran Again – CONTINUED: Part 3: The Zionist Union Position