This week's big questions: Where does the vote not to intervene militarily in Syria leave David Cameron? Will Ed Miliband be our next PM?

This week's big questions are answered by writer and film-maker Tariq Ali

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The Independent Online

Where does Thursday’s vote on Syria leave David Cameron – and the UK?

This is the first time in 50 years or so that the British parliament has voted against participation in an American war. That alone marks this as historic. Cameron was forced to acknowledge that the House of Commons was reflecting the will of the British people. The low-grade speeches of all three leaders were unconvincing. It was 30 Tory dissidents who we have to thank for preventing the country going to war. The effects in the US and in the EU remain to be seen, but can only be positive. Cameron will survive. The UK will win some respect in the world for not being the unthinking poodle it’s been for so long. And in Britain, the vote should permit proper discussion on state TV and other networks. In brief, this vote is the best thing that has happened to British politics for a long time.

And where does it leave Ed Miliband? Will he be our next prime minister?

His amendment manoeuvre in the vote was clever. He will win respect and some votes, but like the rest of the political and administrative elite, he is locked into vassal status. A British politician who wants to be prime minister has to kiss ass in the White House.

Britain is currently without an opposition. On social and economic policies there is no fundamental difference between the Coalition and Labour. On foreign policy it’s been the same, so we’ll see whether the vote on Syria makes any difference. People have short memories. Soon this will be forgotten and the election (unless a new war is on the agenda) will largely concentrate on the economy/austerity. It is here Labour is extremely weak. If they carry on like this, I doubt there will be a Labour prime minister with a commanding majority. They will probably have to negotiate to join a coalition, possibly under a different leader.

Parliamentary Labour remains full of Blairites whose politics are identical to those of Cameron and who would have happily backed the war if their front bench had not decided on an amendment.

What is the likely outcome if the US and any allies it can find take military action in Syria?

If the Iranians react as they are threatening, then we could have war on a number of fronts – Iraq, Lebanon, Afghanistan. That would result in counterstrikes and the war could go out of control, necessitating ground troops. The real reason for the strikes is to weaken one side in the civil war (the regime) and help its opponents. What is indisputable is that more civilians will die.

Are there not so many incompatible bedfellows in the Syria crisis – the US and al-Qa’ida, for  example – as to make a resolution impossible?

The US/Anglo-French strikes being planned are designed to weaken the regime and prevent it from moving to take over more chunks of the country. In this ugly civil war, one side is backed by Iran and Russia; its opponents by the US/Anglo-French coalition, Israel, al-Qa’ida, the Muslim Brotherhood, Saudi Arabia, Qatar. A political solution would require a conference without any preconditions, though after so much death and destruction I doubt any meaningful solution is possible.

Is the UN vital to the legitimacy of international action?

Not really. Bush the younger was very clear that if the Security Council was willing, fine; if not, the US would use Nato. If Nato was divided, the US would set up a new war coalition. If none of this was possible, it would go it alone. The Obama administration is no different.

What role can and/or should Pakistan play in Afghanistan’s peace process, as requested this week by Afghan President Hamid Karzai?

Karzai is desperate for Pakistani support and Islamabad might tolerate him for a while to appease the Americans after they withdraw, but within Afghanistan, Karzai will have very little support. His power will disappear when Nato troops depart. And Pakistan will prefer a neo-Taliban government as an ally.

Five years ago, a national government could have been created, but it’s too late now. All one can hope is that peace returns to a country which has been at war for more years than the First and Second World Wars combined. The occupation of the country by the “international community” has been a disaster. The Russians did much more for the people they were occupying than their Nato successors have.

What is your analysis of the decision to charge Pakistan’s former president Pervez Musharraf over the assassination of Benazir Bhutto in 2007?

It’s a stupid decision. There is no evidence linking Musharraf, directly or indirectly, to her assassination. He was in power when it happened, but if that is all then any head of state could be charged when killings happen under their jurisdiction. Musharraf could have been charged with toppling an elected government, but since the Supreme Court of the time gave retrospective sanction to the coup, that becomes a bit difficult.

There’s always corruption, but in that case virtually every legislator, prime minister, president and senior armed forces officer would have to be charged as well. Musharraf was an idiot for going back, but until now stupidity has not been a capital offence.

We’ve been marking the 50th anniversary of Martin Luther King’s “I have a dream” speech. Is that kind of political idealism a thing of the past?

Black politics in the US has imploded. For decades, the state helped take out the most gifted leaders from within the African-American community with systematic repression and assassinations. Obama himself is a Chicago machine politician, not remotely close to King, let alone more radical leaders. “The greatest purveyor of violence in the world is my own country,” said King during the Vietnam War. Obama is making sure the gold medal for global violence remains a treasured US asset.

Tariq Ali’s books include ‘The Obama Syndrome: Surrender at Home, War Abroad’, published by Verso.  His play, ‘The New Adventures of Don Quixote’, opens at the Grillo Theater in Essen, Germany, on 1 November