′The conflict in the Middle East is Iran vs. everyone else′ | Middle East | News and analysis of events in the Arab world | DW | 21.06.2019

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Middle East

'The conflict in the Middle East is Iran vs. everyone else'

Author and historian Timothy Snyder told DW that the US is risking an improvised war in the Middle East. He also discussed Russia's role in the US conflict with Iran and the European Union's sanctions against Moscow.

Historian Timothy Snyder says Donald Trump's presidency is possible because "freedom is hard, democracy is hard: We're not always going to have nice outcomes that we like — that's the first thing to remember."

Published in 40 languages, Snyder's work has received the literature award of the American Academy of Arts and Letters, the Ralph Waldo Emerson Award and the Hannah Arendt Prize for Political Thought, among other honors.

He spoke with DW about Russia's role in the US conflict with Iran and the European Union's sanctions against Russia.

Timothy D. Snyder

Snyder's books include On Tyranny: Twenty Lessons from the Twentieth Century (2017) and Black Earth: The Holocaust as History and Warning (2015).

DW: We may be on the brink of war. On Friday, Donald Trump confirmed via Twitter that planes had been in the air — ready to bomb targets in Iran — before he called them back. What is Russia's role in the conflict?

Timothy Snyder: One has to answer that a little bit more broadly. The broad outline of the conflict in the Middle East is Iran versus everyone else — versus the Israelis, versus the Saudis — and the Americans take the side of the Saudis and of the Israelis, and the Israelis quietly improve their relations with most of their Arab neighbors, so that now Iran is the main enemy from that point of view. The Russians have, unlike the Americans, been very consistent in the Middle East in the last few years. Since September 2015, Russia has undertaken bombing campaigns and other actions with the goal of shoring up the Assad regime. 

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With Iran, the Russian-American conflict of interest is indirect. I think the difference would be that the Russians have a clear goal. The Russians would like authoritarian regimes to remain authoritarian regimes. 

Read more: US 'approved strikes on Iran,' then suddenly called them off

The Americans under Mr. Trump are kind of moving day to day and improvising. Any war in the Middle East is a bad idea. But a war which is the result of improvisation seems like an even worse one. 

Restricted Iranian Airspace

On Thursday, the European Commission agreed to extend economic sanctions against Russia for at least another year. Is this the right way to go?

Of course it's the right way to go. When one European country invades another European country, the European Union must have some sort of coherent response. The entire postwar European project is based on the idea that European countries will not invade other European countries and that the existing borders, arbitrary though they might be, provide the foundation for sovereign states who will then cooperate with one another and resolve their difficulties or their conflicts in some other way besides invading. So, when in 2014 the European Union was confronted with the spectacle of Russia invading another European country, Ukraine, it had to take some kind of measure. 

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I think the economic sanctions are a suitable response because they have an effect in Russia and they force the Russian government to realize that what it does might have some consequences. 

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The interview was conducted by Sabine Peschel during the "Cultural Symposium 2019 in Weimar - Recalculating the Route," organized by the Goethe-Institut.