That is the limited but consequential objective of a strike in Syria. By requesting that Congress pass a narrow resolution that does not allow for an open-ended engagement or American boots on the ground, Obama has essentially asked that his own power be restricted, itself a rare and welcome decision to restore a democratic balance on issues of war and peace. No one is pretending that our involvement will end this conflict. No one is pretending that force alone can achieve peace. No one is pretending to know who will fill the vacuum in Syria if Assad is driven from power or what their intentions may be. And these questions will remain regardless of our decision to strike.
What we do know is that at least once, a dictator has used internationally banned chemical weapons to kill thousands of civilians in a single attack. We know that if Assad does not face a single consequence for his actions, he has no reason not to keep using poison gas again and again. And we know that if the United States does not act to stop him, no one else will.
I don’t like war, or the risks that accompany even the most limited conflicts. But I cannot un-see the images played on CNN over the weekend of little children gasping for their last breath while an invisible poison destroys their nervous system. The world is a messy, complicated place, and I know we don’t always have the ability, or frankly the will, to stop bad things from happening everywhere, all the time.