Better in Refugees than in Soccer: Canada vs. Germany

German Chancellor Angela Merkel on the refugee crisisIn listening to all the furor over the NYE attacks in Cologne, I’ve come to realize that Canada’s cautious approach to taking in refugees is warranted. Germany’s Chancellor, Angela Merkel, took the bold step back in 2015 of presenting a carte blanche (read: open door) entry to almost all refugees, in order to try to mitigate some of the  refugee and migrant chaos that Europe was experiencing that summer.

Honestly, I’m not sure how the screening for entry into Germany is happening. I know that refugees entering Europe from any geographic/national point are able to apply for entry into Germany, contrary to the EU regulations that would rather have refugees be accepted in whichever country they first appear. Apart from being rubber stamped at the various fringe countries, I have a feeling very little security checks are actually being held of those wishing to seek asylum in Germany.

By Graeme MacKay, Editorial Cartoonist, The Hamilton Spectator - Wednesday November 25, 2015 10,000 Syrian refugees to be resettled by yearÕs end, 15,000 more by February The Liberal government will not meet its Dec. 31 deadline to resettle 25,000 Syrian refugees and now says it aims to complete the program by February. The new target is to bring 10,000 people to Canada by year's end and the remainder in the first two months of 2016. The group will be a mix of government-assisted and privately sponsored refugees, all of whom will be identified by the end of next month. The Canadian government is working with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees as well as the Turkish government to find suitable candidates. Priority for government refugees will be given to complete families, women at risk, members of sexual minorities and single men only if they are identified as gay, bisexual or transgender or are travelling as part of a family. Private sponsors have no restrictions on whom they can bring over and the majority of refugees expected to arrive by the end of the year will be coming via private groups. All health and security screening will take place overseas and once that's complete, refugees will be flown to Toronto and Montreal, largely on chartered aircraft. From there, they will be spread across 36 different destination cities which already have resettlement programs in place. Temporary accommodation will be provided by the military if required, but the government aims to have lodging in place in the host cities and towns. The federal government cost for the program is an estimated $678 million over the next six years but doesn't include additional funding that could be necessary for provinces and territories. More than 500 officials have been assigned to work on the massive resettlement program, one of the largest of its kind in the world as it relates to the Syrian refugee crisis. (Source: Hamilton Spectator) Canada, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is trying to fulfill a campaign promise to bring in 25,000 Syrian refugees (note, only Syrians are included in this number, as opposed to Germany who is accepting refugees from any war-torn country, again, as I understand the situation). The first 10,000, brought in by the 2015 year end, were refugees who had already been sponsored from within Canada by either private citizens or private organizations, such as churches, and whom had already been on the Government of Canada’s radar for the past few years as Citizenship and Immigration Canada conducted its normal security checks.

I’ve had some discussions with individuals who claim that this initial 10,000 shouldn’t count towards Prime Minister Trudeau’s 25,000 count as the 10,000 had already been approved under the auspices of the previous government of former Prime Minister Stephen Harper. I feel that’s just politicking numbers – at the end of the day, whomever is being admitted into Canada is being admitted by the Government of Canada, regardless of who is Prime Minister or which party is at the helm of the country.

What is important is that the Government of Canada remains committed to conducting thorough security clearance checks on each individual who is applying to become a citizen of Canada. All refugees accepted to Canada have gone through these checks. Some pundits have scoffed at Prime Minister Trudeau’s commitment to 25,000 refugees, which really is a drop in the bucket in comparison to Germany’s acceptance of over 1 million refugees in 2015, but that is a manageable number, especially in light of the Cologne attacks.

I wonder if Cologne would have looked different on New Year’s Eve, if the refugees accepted into Germany, carte blanche, had to submit applications, had actually been screened, and had trickled into Germany, rather than flooding into Germany through Chancellor Merkel’s kindness and courage in throwing the doors of Germany wide open to over a million refugees? I do understand that Canada is in a different place, quite literally, than Germany, as we don’t have a war (or wars) on the doorstep of our continent, so that we can take an arm’s length approach to refugees. However, the clash of cultures that occurred that evening of December 31, 2015, perhaps may have been mitigated through a more conservative approach to the refugees.

One might argue that Europe does not have the luxury of being able to deal with a conservative approach to accepting refugees, as Canada is doing. We selected handpicked refugees, and are handpicking refugees out of the camps in Lebanon, Turkey, and Jordan, rather than having to deal with desperate people who have trekked thousands of kilometers in order to find stability and peace. Certainly, most of the refugees whom Germany will have accepted are also not misogynistic bigots who think it their right to grope and rob women in public (and worse); as Deborah Orr, of the Guardian notes:

…it’s silly to pretend that the word “refugee” is synonymous with the word “saint” anyway.

Only a simpleton – or, more commonly, person driven by instinct and emotion – thinks you can counter the uncompromising prejudice of “all immigrants are bad” with the uncompromising prejudice of “all immigrants are good”.

Point taken. Refugees are a slice of a population, and every slice of a population will have its devils and its saints, and everything in between. And yet, the method encouraging people to go through the proper refugee application process certainly seems to have its merits.

I understand that Chancellor Merkel is doing her best to save German face and to instill tougher rules on criminals who are also refugees, and to instill some bureaucratic brakes on the 2015 ‘open door’ policy, so that the influx of refugees slows down in 2016. However, we can’t lose sight of the fact that we keep being reactionary to incidents with these refugees, whether it is the drowning of a refugee toddler, the Paris attacks, or this latest clash of cultures.

The root(s): the conflicts in Syria, Yemen, Afghanistan, Iraq, and Libya; the tensions between Sunnis and Shias as played out through Saudi Arabia and Iran; and of course, the spread of the Islamic State through various regions around the globe. That’s what stable countries like Germany and Canada need to focus on, how to resolve these conflicts in order to mitigate the refugee crisis.

Until these various crises are somewhat ameliorated, we will keep having refugees, and keep reacting to refugee issues: it’s time to stop taking a tactical lens to what is a strategic issue.

Key Performance Indicators in the Middle East

Reuters (et al.) recently posted an article about the number of ISIS militants killed in the past nine months: 10,000. Perhaps ironically, this statistic put me to mind of the gains made by ISIS in recent months, which would suggest that someone in the press farm churned out a seemingly significant number to help alleviate negative press over the coalition mission in the Middle East. However, the KPI of “average number of ISIS militants killed per month by coalition troops” ends up just that, a number, rather than any measure of efficiency and effectiveness.

The objective of the US mission is such: “The president has authorized U.S. Central Command to work with partner nations to conduct targeted airstrikes of Iraq and Syria as part of the comprehensive strategy to degrade and defeat the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, or ISIL.” (US DOD)

5 Lines of Effort are involved:

  1. Providing military support to our partners;
  2. Impeding the flow of foreign fighters;
  3. Stopping ISIL’s financing and funding;
  4. Addressing humanitarian crises in the region; and
  5. Exposing ISIL’s true nature.

With such a broad mandate, the 10,000 killed seems an appropriately broad KPI to support the mandate of the operations. That kind of breadth still needs the proverbial depth. Thankfully, in researching what the actual mission statement was (or equivalent) for the operation led me to the following image, which shows that there are some KPIs out there that are actually more reflective of the mission’s efficiency and effectiveness:

Operation Inherent Resolve targets damanged/destroyedStill, when greeted with KPIs, it would be good to know what the benchmarks are against which to measure these numbers. How many tanks are being used by ISIS? How many buildings? What kind of buildings? A breakdown of building types would be great; if militant homes are being destroyed, the global benefit is obviously less than if a central base is destroyed. What is defined as a fighting position? What are ‘other targets’ and should there be a breakdown? Numbers without context might as well be Greek to a Frau.

And, Bless the US. They also provided this important number: As of May 7, 2015, the total cost of operations related to ISIL since kinetic operations started on Aug. 8, 2014, is $2.44 billion and the average daily cost is $8.9 million.

This kind of fiscal transparency is particularly welcome, and a useful figure to know how much it costs, at least from a US perspective, to try to squash a very dangerous mosquito.

Holding the 10,000 KPI alongside the ones above makes the 10,000 seems somehow more relevant. What makes the 10,000 even more relevant is the number of ISIS militants in Iraq and Syria combined, which I came across the Canadian DND site: 30,000. If this number of 30,000 is correct (and, to be fair, it seems a bit conservative), then in the past 9 months, coalition forces have decimated a third of ISIS’ force. This mission is apparently a three-year operation, so to wipe out a third before the end of the first year, is doing rather well. On this note, it would have been useful if Reuters had made mention of the benchmark ISIS militant population against which to compare the 10,000, rather than just bandying about the figure.

The point here is two-fold: when releasing KPIs, even if they are relative to military operations, then those KPIs should be more meaningful and be placed in a context which the public can understand (this comment is for Reuters and all like news agencies).

Secondly, this seemingly impressive number still belies the question of why ISIS seems to be claiming so much ground in Iraq and Syria in recent months?










Who Likes Puzzles? Questioning the Middle East

It puzzles me that the war on ISIS in the Middle East is falling flat on its proverbial. Given the amount of advanced technology that the West holds, and is shared with the West’s allies, how is it that a rabble of fanatics, unschooled in warfare, is able to gain so much traction in Syria and Iraq?

Cowardice, without being blatantly being called as such, is perhaps one such reason; although I will point out, one does not hear that accusation leveled against Bashar al-Assad’s forces.

Is it that the West (and co.) are bound by formal rules of warfare to which ISIS does not have to adhere? ISIS obviously does not care if civilian casualties are sustained and, in fact, seems to enthusiastically embrace the killing of civilians as a way of keeping their conquered populations in check.

Is it because the populations in the conquered territories are predominantly Sunni and support ISIS? Given the number of refugees fleeing newly-acquired ISIS areas, the truth is likely a mix of those who support and those who detest the fanatical presence.

Another question I have is: what are ISIS’ motives? Of course, establishing a caliphate in the Middle East is at the crux of their ‘vision and mission,’ but where does that end? Are they making a gambit of taking over all the unstable Middle Eastern regions? Such a hypothesis would explain Syria and Iraq. Are Yemen and Lebanon on the menu? Yemen certainly is rife with the kind of instability that attracts scavengers, and Lebanon, although we forget about that country, is incredibly unstable with all sorts of groups vying for power.

Should we really be reexamining the Middle Eastern crisis through a Sunni versus Shiite lens, and try to weigh which is the lesser of two extremists? With my admittedly shallow knowledge of both, I would argue that Shiites are slightly more moderate, which I base on the fact that women are marginally more respected in Shiite-dominated countries, than in Sunni ones.

The only certainty right now is that ISIS is expanding at an alarming rate; that our Western air attacks on ISIS positions are hardly impacting the advance of that organization’s cancerous spread through the Middle East; that Western artillery and ammunition are being abandoned by allies and seized by ISIS; that the league of somewhat stable Middle Eastern countries are soon going to have a nest of motivated vipers in their literal midst; that we might have to swallow pride and distrust, and have to work with the modern Middle Eastern equivalent of Stalinist Russia to help overcome a common enemy before it is too late.Map of ISIS territory in the Middle Eas

Outcry as IS ‘wrecks’ Assyrian site

This news completely depressed me, and outraged me, this morning. I have a degree in archeology and studied about this site,  in one context or another, and to have these ISIS buffoons destroy Nimrod is deplorable.  The only consoling thought I have is that someone out there is getting ready to bomb the crap at out ISIS, and that Mohammed will not be greeting them will open arms for such affronts to all of human history.

An after-post thought: if they were so disgusted by idolatry, why did they loot it first?

Outcry as IS ‘wrecks’ Assyrian site

Canadians – Not So Pacifistic, Eh?

Last week I attended a focus group on federal policies, namely on the state of economy (choose three words from the list in front of you, or write down your own, to describe Canada’s economy: mentally, unstable, rubber boots); agreements with other countries (so we’ll be getting European cheeses much cheaper, but our own Canadian dairies will have to compete with the new products? How much cheaper will those cheeses be? This sounds like a gouda deal); and our involvement in fighting ISIL/ISIS.

A Canadian Armed Forces CF-18 Fighter jet in Kuwait is armed and ready for a combat mission over Iraq during Operation IMPACT on November 7, 2014. Photo Canadian Forces Combat Camera, DND, from National Post.

A Canadian Armed Forces CF-18 Fighter jet in Kuwait is armed and ready for a combat mission over Iraq during Operation IMPACT on November 7, 2014. Photo Canadian Forces Combat Camera, DND, from National Post.

For those of you who may not know, Canada has sent six hundred troops and ten planes to aid the US-led coalition against the nut jobs attempting to set up their own Little Shop of Houris in the Middle East. From my outsiders perspective, the impetus to start to wage war against ISIS (and war it is, even if the word isn’t bandied about yet and is the obvious elephant in the proverbial) was when that group made a move on Kobane, a small city on the northern border of Iraq and Turkey, and nestled in the semi-autonomous region of Western Kurdistan.

Again, from my perspective, we were perfectly happy to let ISIS grow like a cancer while the group appeared to be fighting the Assad regime in Syria, and even when they crossed into Iraq and started taking large swathes of that country hostage. For better or for worse, the Iraqi army was, and is, completely impotent, and the only force with any hutzpah in the area are the Kurds, who fought, and who are fighting, ISIS, tooth and nail. The Kurds have worked hard to try to re-establish a homeland and damned if they will let some rabid dogs try to take it.

Anyhow, the West seemed rather content to let the petty parties duke it out amongst themselves, but the siege of Kobane really seemed to resonate with the Western media, and hence the public, who in turn started to put pressure on Western governments to do something about the festering situation with ISIS. ISIS at this point seemed to have turned from a haphazard rabble into a quasi-organized army, who were not only taking over large swathes of Syria and Iraq, but putting all sorts of people to the sword or slavery, and of course, shackling the newly conquered areas under a completely biased and culturally imbued interpretation of  Sharia law (oh, dear ISIS, you will be surely very surprised when you find out that God really doesn’t endorse the imposition of your will in his name…just a tip, you don’t own the rights to God).

To make a long story short, the US pulled itself up by the bootstraps and put together a coalition to help the Iraqi army (or what is left of it) and the Kurds fight off ISIS, mostly through the medium of air strikes. Canada joined the bandwagon, because that is the way our Conservative government rolls.

It’s interesting though, I’ve always thought of my country as being more pacifist, and certainly, when you read the news here, there does seem to be a strong bias against taking any sort of military action unless it is peacekeeping (of which we are the originators of that idea, and,  although a beautiful concept on paper, like Communism, peacekeeping has been shown to be, time and time again, completely ineffectual). In fact, words such as ‘army,’ ‘war,’ ‘troops,’ ‘fighting,’ often are said with the disdain that one uses when mentioning dog turds.

As such, I was pleased to see that a strong majority of the twelve people (and we’ve come back to the focus group full circle now) were in favour of Canada’s military involvement against ISIS, regardless of the reason why ISIS was aggressing in the first place, and of how Canada got caught up in ISIS’ anti-Western sentiment.

A few people tried to wave the pacifist banner under the argument that we shouldn’t be involved against any military action, even if in a purely supportive role, because that would just goad ISIS into attacking Canada.

At the risk of invoking Godwin’s Law (when a reference is made to Nazis or to Hitler, an argument can then be considered finished and whoever mentioned the Nazis has automatically lost whatever debate was in progress), I see that sort of attitude not unlike saying that well, because Hitler was only targeting non-Aryans and only taking over Poland, but not directly affecting Canada, Canada never should have joined the Allied forces in the Second World War; that sort of distasteful behaviour happens in other countries and Is Not Our Problem as such.

Good lord, people, what kind of an attitude is that to say that a group like ISIS is somebody else’s problem? I just don’t fathom the sheer ignorance of ignoring the power that the hate and fear mongering of these kinds of radical groups creates in our societies.

A poster I saw put up in my building's elevator. Apparently the complex was plastered with this particular poster all day, and the moment one was taken down, another was put up in its place. I did send this to our local RCMP but was basically given the brush off. Caveat emptor, RCMP.

A poster I saw put up in my building’s elevator. Apparently the complex was plastered with this particular poster all day, and the moment one was taken down, another was put up in its place. I did send this to our local RCMP but was basically given the brush off. Caveat emptor, RCMP.

One reason why ISIS is our problem is because we’re all globally connected. There are both positive and negative consequences of being so interconnected. Most of us in the West live under the shroud of positive consequences, which are often spoofed as ‘First World Problems.’ However, our tolerance for all sorts of things has caused us to becoming overly sensitive to trying to not insult anyone, a sensitivity that radical groups (who are not in any way, shape, or form, sensitive to trying to understand somebody else’s perspective) take advantage of to propagate their skewed messaging to the disenfranchised both in their home countries and in all of our countries.

How can you expect to rationalize with someone who thinks it okay to drop people from the rooftop of a high building simply because the person is gay, or to stone a woman to death because she was seen outside her home without a male member of her family to accompany her, or who thinks that slavery is okay and a just a way of providing everyone with work?

Whew. I think I’ve covered the gamut here. At the end of the day, my people see ISIS as a very dangerous element in the world, and we’re very supportive of our government sending our military out to fight ISIS in the Middle East. We’re also okay with our troops having to return fire if they are being fired upon by ISIS militants, because our troops have the right to defend themselves when trying to help make things right in that part of the world.

Like I said, pleasantly surprised.