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Lazy Vegetarian Meal Ideas #20 Baked Camembert and Garlic Bread

I do like a bit of Camembert, and it turns out it tasted even better baked! I am not sure if it is meant to be as melted as mine turned out or if this is what Jamie Oliver had in mind, but damn it tasted good.
Garlic bread is also ridiculously easy to make and tastes so much better than the shop frozen shop bought ones, and as it works out cheaper as well there is no excuse not to at least give it a try.

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What you need: A whole Camembert, a few sprigs of thyme, two or three garlic cloves, olive oil, a baguette or two, garlic paste, a few chunks of butter, a few fresh basil leaves, some dry oregano

1: Take the Camembert out of its packaging and either place it back in the box if wooden or put in a baking tray with some baking paper (I did this rather than the box thing as I was a little concerned it might catch on fire).

2: Drizzle the Camembert with olive oil and cut a few slits in the top, in which you will put the sprigs of thyme and two/three garlic cloves. Set the oven to a medium heat and cook for 20-30 minutes until it is starting to brown

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3: Whilst the Camembert is baking, heat butter in a sauce pan. When the butter is melting, add a few spoonfuls of garlic paste (amount will depend on how garlicy you’re feeling) stir and cook for a few minutes. Then add the basil and cook for a minute or two more. Be careful not to let the garlic burn so make sure it stays on a medium/low heat. Cut the baguettes in half and apply the garlic butter generously, make sure all the baguettes get a bit of basil!

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4: Sprinkle the baguettes with oregano and bake in the oven for 10-20 minutes until crisp and smelling delicious

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5: Enjoy as a decadent starter or a slightly more acceptable main course.yeees

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Lazy Vegetarian Meal Ideas #19 Kale, Spinach and Cashew pies

When I was planning my Christmas Dinner I wasn’t really sure what main to make. Most Vegetarian or Vegan Christmas recipes are all about nut roasts or some variation of toad in the hole, neither which I’m particularly crazy about. I had never made a pie before Christmas Day, but I am really glad I took the plunge because it turned out really well. I was a little concerned about the egg factor as pretty much every pie recipe calls for at least one egg, but it turns out warm butter works fine, and even though I had some moments of doubt here and there it turned out to be one of the easiest things I have ever made.

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What you need: A rolling pin, a flat chopping or bread board, a pack of frozen puff pastry, a few dollops of salted butter, about five big handfuls of fresh kale and spinach, a few chopped mushrooms, two chopped chillies, garlic paste, olive oil, cashew nuts, one small onion, cheddar cheese (optional) a few baked potatoes (optional), a few small muffin tins (optional, you can make this as a long pie or small pies)
Spices: Salt, Pepper, Chilli flakes, a few sprinkles of thyme and oregano

1: Prepare the filling. Heat olive oil in a medium sauce pan and add a spoonful or two of garlic paste and the chopped chillies. After a minute or two, add chopped onions and fry until the onions are translucent (around 5-7 minutes). Add the mushrooms, cashews and potatoes (if using) and sauté for a 2/3 more minutes, then add the kale, spinach, salt, pepper and spices and cook on a medium/low heat for a further few minutes.

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2: Defrost the pastry in the fridge the night before cooking, then on the day remove from its packaging and if completely defrosted roll out with a rolling pin. If making small pies, use the pie tins to cut the pastry into circles, or if not just roll out until flat

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3: Heat butter in a small sauce pan and when melted coat both sides of the pastry. Then bake the pies in the oven for five minutes or until they are starting to puff

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4: Add the filing and place pies in the oven on a medium heat (around 150/gas mark 5/6) for 10-12 minutes. If adding cheese add it after this time and then bake for a further 30 minutes or until the pastry is starting to brown and is sufficiently puffed.

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5: For best results enjoy with my roast potatoes and some onion gravy

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Lazy Vegetarian Meal Ideas#18 Roast potatoes

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I hope you are all enjoying the festive season. The last few days have been quite exciting in the recipe department; on Christmas Day I made the entire Christmas dinner for me and my family. I may have gone a tad overboard as I ended up making a feast for at least 20 people when there were only 3 to feed, and so naturally we had to eat it all over Christmas Day and Boxing Day. I may have to start seriously going to the gym and eating zoodles every day when the new year starts, but I got to try out so many new recipes and feed people so I’m pretty happy about how it all turned out. I’ve made so much food over the past few days that I’m having to split this into a few parts, so for now feast your eyes on my super easy and uber tasty roast potatoes and look out for my first ever attempt at veggie savoury pies (so easy), baked Camembert and so much more coming soon.

Roast potatoes 

Roast potatoes are very easy to make, and yet somehow everyone still seems to have their own way of making them. I personally like to cook them with some chopped chilli’s and mushrooms or peppers as I think it adds to the taste, also obviously olive oil rather than goose fat and some nice fresh herbs. As always please feel free to play with and add to the recipe, and let me know how you make your own potatoes.

Note: I would normally add Rosemary, but unfortunately I forgot to buy any. If you have any add it, but they were fine without.

What you need: Peeled and chopped potatoes, olive oil, a handful of chopped chillies, a few chopped mushrooms, a large pot and a roasting tray
Spices: Fresh Thyme, salt, pepper, a handful of chilli flakes (optional)

1: Peel potatoes and chop them into chunks; I like mine a little smaller than most people but that’s just me.

2: Boil potatoes with a little salt for around 10-14 minutes

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3: Whilst potatoes are boiling, pour a little extra virgin olive oil on the roasting tray. Add chopped chillies, mushrooms and a few sprigs of thyme and toss with a few pinches of salt

4: Add the potatoes and toss all the ingredients together, adding salt and pepper to taste

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5: Bake on a medium heat for about 40 minutes/ until the potatoes are crisp and brown

6: Enjoy on their own or as part of a festive/Sunday feast!

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It’s Christmas!!!

It’s officially Christmas Day! Tomorrow I’m going to attempt to cook a vegetarian Christmas lunch/dinner and if successful will share the recipes and pictures with you lovely people, but for now I would just like to wish everyone on wordpress and the  world at large a very merry Christmas and a fantastic new year. I love Christmas. Not because of the religious aspect (Churches are pretty, but I am not a Christian) or because of the extended family thing (most of my larger family live in a far away country so my Christmas is quite a small affair), but because I do believe Christmas is a wonderful time of year. It encourages us to spend time with our families and loved ones; in this age of Netflix and commuting and eating on your own (with Netflix) and being basically glued to our phones all the time, a lot of us may not realise how little we actually see some of the important people in our lives, like our parents or grandparents (if applicable). For one day it’s nice to spend that little bit of extra time with other human beings, because ultimately these are the times you will remember and you need to make the most of it. Also winter is (at least in theory, although global warming’s kinda messing with that at the moment) cold and depressing in this country, and it’s good to have some festive lights and decorations to perk up the otherwise dismal time of year.

 

Have a fantastic Christmas, and wish me luck for this dinner!

Disclaimer: Pictures sadly do not belong to and were not taken by me.

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The Winters Tale Review at The Garrick theater

So yesterday I went to see The Winters Tale, a Shakespearian play directed by Rob Ashford and Kenneth Branagh, starring Kenneth Branagh and Judy Dench. The show had full star reviews from several major publications so one would assume it would be a pretty good show.

It was not.

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I think because The Winters Tale is in itself a confusing and I believe badly told story that makes absolutely no sense, that meant the actors found it hard to engage with the play and portray their characters properly. I’m not really sure if the acting was bad because of the play, or if they play was bad because of the acting, but something was definitely wrong.  I am not sure if Kenneth Branagh has a unique acting style or if he was genuinely forgetting his lines throughout the play, but there were several awkward pauses and sometimes it really felt like the actors were just saying words and didn’t really have any idea what they were saying, which would have made sense as most of the time I had no idea what they were saying either.

I vaguely managed to get the gist of the story, which involved a seemingly normal guy turning into a crazy and jealous monster within the space of a few minutes and then doing a complete 360 before the end of the first act, people dropping dead for no logical reason, being turned into statues and then being revived by Judy Dench, and some rather surprising but very welcome folk dancing. I was confused that the actors were dressed in Victorian attire and had a Christmas tree on set whilst the story was meant to be set in Ancient Rome; the play started with the actors walking through the audience singing a Christmas song, and yet the play was also vaguely set in Ancient Rome with the characters visiting an oracle and believing in multiple Gods. That alone would have been okay if the acting was convincing, but a lot of the soliloquy’s made no sense, partly because sometimes the actors spoke too quietly to be audible  (keep in mind we were on the bottom level so were closer to the stage than most of the audience) but mostly because through several quite large chunks of the play there didn’t seem to be a connection between the actors and the text. Sometimes they seemed a lot more like people reading a script than actors portraying a character. They did use different voice levels, sometimes whispering and suddenly screaming, but it wasn’t effective because as there wasn’t a great sense of character and so it was hard to feel the emotion. I didn’t really understand why they were randomly screaming and whispering. It was hard to understand or relate to the random bursts of emotion, especially as they seemed quite sporadic.

Kenneth Branagh did have a few strong moments, but for most of the play I literally thought he kept forgetting his lines. Judy Dench gave a good performance as she is a great actress, but even she couldn’t force the story to make sense. The actress who played Perdita, the abandoned royal baby who miraculously survives a bear attack when the men who left her there are torn to pieces, was actually pretty good; she was lively and the dancing scenes in the second act was one of the significant high points  of the play.

The play wasn’t a complete disaster. However, the play itself ended on an exceptionally weak note, which was a fault of the actual play rather than the production although I do feel they could have executed it better.  Hermione, the wife who suddenly drops dead just after the gods say she is innocent is somehow brought back to life by Judy Dench’s character and they all presumably live happily ever after. It was quite sudden and not particularly well explained, you don’t even see Branagh’s character meet his long lost daughter. This is probably not the fault of the directors of this play as I imagine it was quite close to the original. What this play has confirmed for me is that Shakespeare really isn’t all that. Whilst some of his plays are very good, i.e Macbeth and Midsummer Nights Dreams, that doesn’t mean every single thing he ever wrote was fantastic. If the play I saw yesterday was anything close to the original written by Shakespeare, it really is not a very good play. It felt like two different stories pushed together with a very hurried happy ending that was not properly explained, and as Shakespeare goes I wouldn’t really recommend it.

And yet somehow this play got a standing ovation. I feel this is because it was Shakespeare, and people assume that Shakespeare is both very good and very hard for us modern people to understand. Therefore, the more difficult one of his plays is to understand the more authentic it must be. However, this is not true. A Greek tragedy or a Shakespearean play can have challenging language, but if the original play flows reasonably well and if the actors deliver good performances you do not need to be a scholar to appreciate and understand it. This story in itself was, to me at least, very badly written, and the fact that the actors performances tended to suggest they didn’t understand the text either left me very underwhelmed and slightly bemused. Shakespeare can be good, but it is definitely not always good. In total, I would give it 2.5 out of 5 stars.

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Lazy Vegetarian Meal Ideas #17 Baked Macaroni and cheese: Broccoli edition

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Since my original macaroni and cheese recipe I have experienced great success and great failure in the mac and cheese department. Whilst it is such an easy meal to make, sometimes I leave the preparation too late and then end up trying to whisk, chop and  drain things at the same time and so the sauce ends up a bit over-cooked and grainy. The key is to not over-complicate the dish and remember not to over-cook the white sauce, and I think I’m on the right path to becoming the English master of Macaroni cheese. I originally meant for this to a stove-top version of the recipe but it turned out too soupy. However, with a bit of baking it reduced, kept its creamy texture and turned out great.
Whilst Mac and Cheese is one of the most decadent meals ever, you can health it up with some broccoli and a nice green salad.

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What you need: Pasta (I used a combo of shells and penne), about half/three quarters of a 2 pint bottle of milk (use less if you don’t want to bake it), three and a half table spoons of butter, three table spoons of flower, lots of mature cheddar cheese, chopped broccoli florets, finely chopped mushrooms, olive oil, one vegetarian stock cube, one teaspoon of mustard, a few handfuls of bread crumbs, two tea spoons of garlic (see below), two large pots, a frying pan and a whisk
Spices: Salt, pepper
Note: Whilst I am sure fresh garlic would work just as well or better, this little tub of garlic made cooking a lot easier and I really recommend it if you cannot be bothered chopping and preparing the garlic from scratch:IMG_1277

1: Chop the broccoli into small florets and finely chop the mushrooms. Heat two tea spoons of garlic in olive oil in the frying pan until fragrant, season with salt and pepper and then sauté the broccoli and mushrooms for a few minutes until the mushrooms are browned and the broccoli is shiny and a brighter shade of green. Then set to one side to be heated a bit later.

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2:Add one vegetarian stock cube to a sauce pan and pour over boiling water, when the cube has dissolved add pasta and cook per packet instructions

3: In a large sauce pan heat three and a half table spoons of butter on a medium heat. When it has melted almost all the way add three table spoons of flour and whisk for a few minutes until the roux is a nice golden colour, then turn to a lower heat and slowly whisk in a bit of milk at a time. Remember to whisk pretty much constantly whilst doing this to make sure the sauce is smooth, and add one tea spoon of mustard and sprinkle with salt and pepper

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4: Turn to the lowest heat whilst keeping your cooker on and add the cheese whilst continuing to whisk until the cheese is melted. Then add the vegetables and pasta to the source and stir until everything is covered

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5: You can just leave it there, but if you would like to bake it just  tip the mac and cheese into a baking tray. Don’t worry if the sauce seems quite runny and soupy, it will reduce very quickly in the oven! Sprinkle with bread crumbs and bake for 15-25 minutes until golden. Add some home made garlic bread (coming soon!) and green salad. Enjoy!

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Mhmm…

 

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Thoughts on Syria

This has been a pretty intense week. After a ten and a half hour debate in the house of commons on Wednesday the UK government voted in favour of extending air strikes to Syria and contributing to a bombing coalition with the US and France in that country. After the decision was broadcast, a lot of people took to social media to voice their opinions. I have personally seen far more comments against the motion than I have for, but it would be wrong to say that public opinion is unanimously or extremely against the strikes. Public opinion is never unanimous, and not everyone takes to social media to voice their opinions. There are a lot of arguments on both sides, and both are right in parts and wrong in others.
The idea that military action should never be an option is frankly un-realistic, and some people seem to have bought into the hype surrounding this vote and decided that it means the UK will personally start dropping thousands and thousands of bombs on innocent people. This is an overstatement. The UK is contributing a small number of air crafts to an existing operation, and it has basically been admitted that our contribution is unlikely to make a significant difference, they are also meant to be targeting Daesh only and avoiding civilian areas.  They are not trying to target civilians and they claim that the RAF has not killed a single civilian during the already existing operation in Iraq, in reality this is very hard to prove because of the sheer depth of destruction in this region and dubious sources, and we may never know for sure if this is true or not. We also do not know and may never know how many civilians are going to be effected or killed by extending the operations in Syria.
Syria is already being heavily bombed by different, overlapping forces and there doesn’t seem to be much proof that it is helping to end or even significantly hurt Daesh, but if there was a proper ground force and a realistic chance at a peace settlement it would be a helpful to weaken them, scatter them and help cut off their resources. As we do not have these things, I do not feel the bombing campaign is the best course of action, and I have not been convinced by any of the frankly half baked, rushed or non-relevant arguments by the MP’s or those who support this.
Some things came up in the debate, including Cameron’s assertion that bombing Syria will somehow make us safer in the UK and all the hype about Hilary Benn’s speech. There is also a very important issue no one seems to be thinking about, which is very worrying as it is extremely relevant to our security and the future of Syria.
I’m going to attempt to address these, but this is a very complex and multi-faceted issue and I’m not going to pretend to know what the best course of action should be. It does worry me that these points don’t seem to have been acknowledged adequately by parliament.

Firstly, the idea that bombing Syria will make us safer does not make sense to me. And the reason for this is simple. Although Daesh currently has its headquarters in Syria, the attacks that happened in Paris were carried out by those in Paris, not in Syria. The people who carried out the attacks may have been to Syria, they were in touch with people in Syria, but they were born in and residents of the EU. So although people who support Daesh and subscribe to their views are likely to be in touch with people in Syria, and as we know hundreds of people from our own country have travelled to, and worryingly back, from Syria, if attacks happen in this country they are very likely to be carried out by people already here, and therefore bombing Syria will not stop their ability to carry out attacks on our countries, and is likely to make ‘revenge attacks’ more likely, as well as potentially so called lone wolf attacks, by people inspired by but not directly connected to Daesh.
There is another reason as well. It is not just extremists who dislike our respective governments and the actions they have carried out in the past and continue to carry out now. There are thousands of people who hate the very notion of religious murder and the whole idea of Daesh who also hate our government and  their previous actions in the Middle East. There are plenty of people who see the war in Iraq as nothing more than a cold, calculated war crime and believe that those who were involved are murderers. And there are also plenty of people who disagree strongly with the decision taken on Wednesday, because they believe it is to do with oil and our governments collective greed. These are non radicalised and often peaceful people who hold these views. These are not limited to extremists. The reason Daesh’s propaganda works is because some of it is based on truth. Not the idea that there is some apocalyptic crusade in which they are fighting, and not the idea that murdering innocent people is going to result in some heavenly reward. But we do have a complicated, long running and often nasty history not just with the middle east but with most places around the world. This is not because people in our countries are abnormally evil, but because human history is full of people doing horrific things to each other all over the world. There is no way to excuse the murders these people have carried out in Europe or abroad. These people have murdered thousands within Syria and continue to stone, torture and execute any dissenters or anyone who even vaguely strays from their vision of Islam and their strict rules on behaviour. They have also filled mass graves with all the people they decided not to rape. And they have and continue to carry out horrific attacks outside of Syria, including our neighbors in France. These actions can never be excused; as human action goes these are among the most evil it could be and I hope everyone reading this is under no delusion that this is the case. But that does not mean that our countries actions over the last twenty years were any less terrible, that innocent people have not died during these ‘liberation’ wars. The ‘west’ are at least partly responsible for the hell that Daesh was born out of. This is by no means the only factor, but it is a factor, and until we stop ignoring our past mistakes we cannot hope to beat  this propaganda. There is also the fact that these people want to be martyred, and they want the west to commit atrocities because it furthers their cause.
This does not mean military action is not an option, but it does mean we have to be more careful when applying it and ensuring that it is part of a comprehensive plan, not just war for the sake of looking like we are doing something.

Secondly, Hilary Benn’s speech was really not all that. In terms of rhetorical devices and the art of public speaking, it wasn’t bad. He had a good use of tone, he applied several effective rhetorical devices and he had good presence. He would have done any debating club proud. But the actual words he said did not offer anything new to the debate, in fact in terms of addressing the issues at hand he failed on several accounts. He played it in such a way that everyone could agree with it without him actually having to say anything of note, and it worked very well for him. His analogy with ‘facism’ was effective because it invoked our feelings about Nazism, but it did not address the issue. This is not the same situation as it was during the second world war not least because warfare has changed a considerable amount. This is not fighting them on the grounds, seas and skies, and fighting a clear army with equal footing, this is dropping a few bombs a week from a great hight and adding slightly to the destruction of a country.
Most of his speech concerned the need to fight Daesh in general. No one was disputing that we needed to take action against them, the issue at hand was whether contributing air strikes, and a small number of air strikes at that, is the right approach to tackle them, not whether we should fight them at all. And he does address that where he says: “Look at how their military capacity and their freedom of movement has been put under pressure. Ask the Kurds about Sinjar and Kobane. Now of course air strikes alone will not defeat Daesh, but they make a difference because they are giving them a hard time and it is making it more difficult for them to expand their territory.”. I find that pretty weak, because whilst it may slow them down, it does not mean they cannot regain the territory fairly quickly without ground forces to stop them and as we have seen in the campaign that is already happening whilst they have been stopped in some areas, they have gained territory in others. Without an effective ground army to keep them from regaining this territory, bombing will at best have very limited success.
His mentioned the ‘ground troops’ that we are relying on to hold the territory being bombed “But I tell you what else we know: it’s whatever the number – 70,000, 40,000, 80,000 – the current size of the opposition forces mean the longer we leave taking action, the longer Daesh will have to decrease that number” is also not a strong statement, in fact it highlights how little we know about these troops we are relying on, especially as they are very likely to have their own agendas. Some of these fighters are fighting for democracy, and some for their right to their own country, and some are doing very well and establishing free societies within that country, but others are not. If we train and equip these people, it is quite likely if we are able to defeat Daesh someone else will easily be able to take their place. The PM has basically admitted that some, who knows how many, are from Al Qaeda, the people we spent the last ten+ years fighting. There are many interests at work here, and I think it is extremely naive to think we can unite them all and control them, especially if they are not sure what we are offering them at the end of all this. And his statement “We are part of a coalition of over 60 countries standing together shoulder to shoulder to oppose their ideology and their brutality.” is something I’m really not convinced about. I’ve tried to find a list of every country involved in this ‘coalition’, and so far I have found around 24 countries with varying levels of involvement, as well as an array of local forces within the region. If anyone has any information on the other 36 countries apparently involved please let me know, otherwise I fail to understand where this figure has come from.
It was not a bad speech, but I do not believe it, or he, deserves the hype.  I do not feel he gave a convincing argument for  whether the UK contributing to air strikes would make a significant positive contribution to this war.  He did attempt address these points, although I do not believe he did so very well, but he spent far more rallying everyone up by making statements that are both easy to agree with and largely empty.

The third and perhaps most pressing point is that this war is far more complex then the MPs made out on Wednesday. It is not a case of a united country being invaded by Daesh that will go back to normal once they are removed. The civil war was not started because of Daesh, Daesh was just able to capitalize on it because of the chaos that was already happening. And the civil war will not stop with their removal. There are many differing and often un-compatible interests in Syria, and it is far more complex than it sounded during the debate. President Assad has most probably killed more Syrians than Daesh have, and many Syrian people have fought for years to remove him. So when and if we can defeat Daesh, there will be a few options, and none of them are ideal. Firstly, we could say that our sole aim was to defeat Daesh and now we will withdraw military action, in which case the chaos is likely to continue and a similar group will sooner or later have the opportunity to emerge, or that Assad will regain power (in which case see point three). We could go against Russia and say that we will continue to fight, and therefore fight Russia to remove Assad, which is likely to anger Iran and Russia and could potentially lead to World War Three. Wars have started for less. Or we could side with Russia and turn the country over to Assad, which is probably the most likely plan, which would be a betrayal of the Syrian people who have spent years in a hellish war. To say all of that was for nothing and that things would be set back to how they were before this all started is almost guaranteed to turn these people against us, and out of all the possible scenario’s the fact will remain that we will have proved to the world we only care about those who directly effect us and are perfectly happy to work with murderous dictators and turn a blind eye to their domestic policies as long as they are friendly to us. Some people are comparing this to Iraq, but it is not the same. It is not a case of us invading a country for no reason and removing a dictator with no end plan, many people in Syria have already risen up against Assad. We are not enforcing this from our comfortable plushy offices overseas, many people in Syria have fought for this for years.

There is no easy answer to this issue, all have the potential to be very messy and unpleasant, and I am not sure anyone really knows how to deal with it  if and when it does come up. What I do know is that by rushing into an air strike on Syria we have thrown ourselves into a much bigger conflict than we would like to think about, and the assertion that it is hardly an issue because the borders are not recognized by Daesh is not the point. The point is that the situation in Syria is not the situation in Iraq, and now we have committed ourselves to something I am not convinced any of the MP’s really understand. I am not saying military action is the wrong approach, and at some point it would probably have been necessary. But I feel they should have spent far longer thinking about the immediate as well as the future consequences and thought up at least the beginnings of a solid plan before engaging these air strikes. The Vienna talks are intended to solve this issue, but I can’t see that happening any time soon, and until they do the situation remains uncertain with or without Daesh. This was not just extending the war. This was much more than that, and to say it is not is to lie to the public.

 

Further reading:

http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/middle-east/syria-air-strikes-cartoon-sums-up-the-problem-with-the-international-coalition-against-isis-a6755521.html

http://www.theguardian.com/world/2014/aug/11/us-air-strikes-iraq-isis-minimal-impact-pentagon

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/middleeast/syria/12032102/Awful-though-it-seems-working-with-Assad-may-be-the-only-option-in-Syria.html

http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/2015/12/02/jeremy-corbyn-warns-uk-fa_n_8700172.html

http://www.gizmodo.co.uk/2015/12/heres-the-hilary-benn-syria-speech-transcript-in-full/

http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/middle-east/russia-and-france-will-co-operate-against-isis-but-vladimir-putin-and-francois-hollande-at-odds-over-a6750781.html

http://www.theguardian.com/world/2015/dec/03/syria-assad-question-means-a-common-front-against-isis-is-still-a-long-way-off

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-middle-east-34981848