A mural in the town of Kafranbel depicts stages of the Syrian conflict.Khalil Ashawi / Reuters
NOV 24, 2015
In August 1941, Winston Churchill and Franklin Roosevelt met off the coast of Newfoundland to outline a shared vision for the post-World War II era. The British prime minister was so thrilled to see the American president that, in the words of one official, “You’d have thought he was being carried up into the heavens to meet God.” The two countries issued the Atlantic Charter, which sought “a better future for the world” through the principles of self-determination, collective security, and free trade. The United States hadn’t even entered the war yet, but it was already focused on winning the peace. The endgame was not just the defeat of the Axis powers, but also the creation of a stable global order, in which World War II would be the last world war.
Today, the United States is contemplating a major expansion of its military campaign against ISIS. Driven partly by faith that the end times are imminent, ISIS has stepped up expeditionary attacks outside its caliphate, including the bombing of a Russian jet over Egypt, a suicide attack in Lebanon, and coordinated assaults in Paris.
In the struggle against ISIS, however, far from preparing for the postwar world, U.S. politicians haven’t shown much interest in long-term thinking. Instead, the debate is fixated on immediate tactical questions, or which hill to capture. Who is planning for a better peace?