Actually, I’ve been back in the saddle for a few weeks now, but it has taken me this long to return to this blog and admit as much: and that’s the odd thing. Why should I feel a tad shamefaced about it? I shouldn’t but I do. Had I suffered a bad dose of - real - influenza or been laid low for a couple of months with hepatitis or, like my brother, been out of action for more than a year with tuberculosis (he refused to go to the doctor for several months despite my insisting, then he did, was whisked into hospital, and then spent the best part of a year on medication recuperating), I wouldn’t feel this niggle to apologise and excuse myself. But I do.
Much has been written about our attitude to ‘depression’ and ‘mental illness’ and I don’t think there’s a great deal more I can usefully add. I’ve already pointed out that - in my case, at least - there’s bugger all ‘mental’ about my symptoms (wanting to be elsewhere and on your own can equally be brought on by being in the company of a group of crashing bores in committee) and, like ‘cancer’, I suspect a great deal of disparate conditions are lumped together under the heading of ‘depression’.
But I will point out - and I must stress that I most certainly cannot speak for anyone else - what when, as I have in the past, often severely, I have suffered from a bout of ‘depression’ it had nothing to do with ‘being unhappy’ and any feelings of being ‘down’ I experienced was brought about by the, at the time, fear that ‘this just isn’t going to end’. It did, of course, and that is the first thing I always remind myself: it came to and end before and it will do so again. But now enough of that.
. . .
My last entry, on November 13, was ‘Events, dear boy, events. But are some worse than others? Or are they all equally bad?’ Then bugger me, not hours later the massacre in Paris occurred, to be followed - here in Britain - just three weeks later by Parliament’s decision to extend the our involvement in the bombing campaign in Iraq to Syria. Talke of ‘events’. Pretty much overshadowed I’m A Celebrity, Give Me The Money for almost a day.
The vote in the Commons got all the pundits talking with Labour’s leader Jeremy Corbyn finding himself truly between a rock and a hard place. He opposed and opposes extending bombing to Syria. Most of his MPs, including most of his Shadow Cabinet didn’t. There was talk of him imposing a three-line whip on his MPs instructing them to oppose David Cameron’s motion that ‘this House believes Britain must do everything and anything to persuade the world that we really are still a force to be reckoned with, even though because of budget cuts are Royal Air Force at present only has two Sopwith Camels and a few barrage balloons. Oh yes!’
Actually, it’s not as bad as it sounds: the RAF, we are told, already has 50 Airfix kits on order and they should arrive from Shenzen well before Easter. And if not by then, well, this bother in Syria looks set to run and run so there’s no danger of it all being over before the RAF can get it together and demonstrate the full extent of its might.
Unusually, I am with Labour commie rat and national danger Jeremy Corbyn on this one in thinking extending our air strikes it not such a good idea. Well, I think that’s his reason, and it is most certainly mine. Despite all the brave talk about ‘the damage our boys have already done to ISIS’ (©Daily Mail) the reality looks rather different, apparently.
There were some statistics on BBC 2’s Newsnight last night which are illuminating: according to its Mark Urban, since the bombing began, the US has made 8,537 bombing raids on ISIS in Iraq and Syria. Since they joined in a month or two ago, the Russians have made 2,300 raids, though Urban pointed out there is some dispute as to how they arrive at those figures. There is no dispute, however, over the UK’s figures: 380 bombing raids since it all kicked off (and, of course, all of them in Iraq). Pretty much all commentators I have heard stress that however useful bombing is, it will ultimately not get rid of ISIS. For that you need (cliche alert) ‘boots on the ground’.
David Cameron assured the Commons two days ago as he was beating the war drum and enthusing MPs in their bloodlust that 70,000 assorted fighters are standing by to attack ISIS. Most commentators are laughing out aloud at this figure and claim it has more or less been pulled out of thin air by Cameron. I think we should not get involved in bombing Syria because it will not achieve anything. Those in favour point out that all we would be doing would be extending the bombing from Iraq to Syria. Point taken, but my concern is Britain getting ever deeper into an already hugely complex situation. What, exactly, apart from getting rid of ISIS do those members of the anti-ISIS coalition hope to achieve?
As far as I can tell - a necessary proviso - the UK, France and the US want to get rid of Bashar al-Assad, Syria’s president (and it was his heavy-handed response to protests up and down Syria which kicked all this off). He is, we are assured, a nasty dictator and the West is morally obliged to rid the world of nasty dictators (or at least rid the world of those we haven’t palled up to and who are useful to us, Egypt’s Sisi and Turkey’s Erdogan, for example, though Erdogan hasn’t quite got all his badges to qualify as a nasty dictator.) On the other hand others in the anti-ISIS coalition, notably Russia and Iran, want Assad to stay.
So what happens after ISIS is no more? One of the objections trotted out by those opposing further involvement in air strikes is: what exactly is the long-term strategy? And given that apart from anything else the Syrian conflict is also a proxy war between the Sunni Muslim Saudis and the Shi-ite Muslim Iranians, to which conflict will it transfer if and when ISIS are beaten?
I might be older than I was, but I am not old enough to remember the start of World War I. But I do know that it started almost ccidentally: as today, various powerful nations were itching to demonstrate that they had balls - one constant in many commentaries is how Russia, or rather Putin, wants to regain the position it lost when the Soviet empire went tits up as power in the world and the US, naturally (remember them? The guys in the white hats?) would far prefer to keep Russia in the box it has been banished to these past 20 years.
Things are not going well for the ruling family in Saudi Arabia, Iran has internal troubles of its own with something like more than half its population being born many years after the Islamic revolution and rather wondering when they might eventually get a bit of the Western lifestyle action.
Apart from that the EU is beginning to go through its ever-so longwinded death throes - kicking Greece out of Schengen is not a good sign (though it hasn’, as I write, yet happened), and Europe-wide the right and far right are getting ever more support what with all the folk making their way north from Africa and the Middle East. Looking a little dodgy, isn’t it. Oh, and Ukraine has gone a little quiet these days, hasn’t it. Is it all hearts and flowers there again? Doubt it.
Have a Happy Christmas.