There are a number of specific issues we all must consider when discussing the situation in Syria. So lets begin.
Moral Right - I think we can all safely say that we, as Americans, object to the use of weapons of mass destruction being used on civilians. Chemical attacks are non-directed (unlike a bullet) and kill indiscriminately (against non-military targets) and are particularly heinous. While the world has drawn no "red line" (which we'll talk about in a moment) against the use of these weapons, there HAS been an almost world-wide condemnation of chemical and biological weapons. The problem with US Intervention against Assad of Syria for this outrage is that if we accept the role of world arbiter of justice, we place ourselves in an impossible position. Already there is a sense of hypocrisy as we have ignored chemical attacks before, and what about the 100,000 OTHER dead people in Syria, who were killed with conventional arms? Are their lives worth any less than the 1000 or so who died by chemical attack? And for those who want to see us punish Bashir Al Assad for the use of chemical weapons, I would ask them if this policy only goes for nations we can handily defeat in a military engagement? Because what happens if CHINA or RUSSIA decide that gassing their populace is the easiest way to crush rebellion? Will we attack them?
Constitutionally - Constitutionally, the President of the United States has absolutely no authority to launch an attack similar to the one being asked for by President Obama without congressional approval. Both the Constitution itself and the War Powers Act limits the President from waging war of this kind. Unfortunately there are people who argue both sides of the aisle on the issue of Constitutionality. You can read the for and against here:
Constitution Allows President To Attack
Presidential War Powers
When I wrote the article I posted a few days ago about how I felt the President's sudden adherence to Constitutionality was an act of cowardice, I was very closely aligned with John Yoo, a law professor at UC Berkeley who wrote the first article linked to above. Precedent HAS given the President almost unilateral, limited control over the US military and targets and there are good reasons for that. In many cases a military intervention must be completed quickly, before targets are dispersed, and secretly, to make sure the enemy does not know we intend to intervene. For just such a reason Presidents have rejected using Congress to make the decision for military action. It can introduce politics into what should be a simple question of national security and protecting our country's interests. There are just some things that should NOT be decided by a committee. By failing to act with speed, President Obama has made the task of eliminating Assad's chemical weapon delivery capacity almost impossible by the US Military, which brings us to our next issue.
Military Targets - We've been told by experts that the type of limited military strike that President Obama initially asked for will be ineffective. We can not bomb the chemical munitions directly, since that will release the toxic agents and would cause thousands of innocent casualties. Further compacted by the fact that the Syrian Regime has no problem using their own population as human shields, the best we might be able to do is remove the military infrastructure that delivers the chemical weapons. The effectiveness of this is highly debatable, but I will presume that if the US Military is told to make sure planes can't take off from military bases, and that every piece of mobile artillery is destroyed, it will be. But in reality this kind of certainty will take thousands of man hours and weaponry. Much more than the "limited" strike, President Obama envisions. Worse, it still leaves the problem - the weapons of mass destruction - on hand, ready to either be used again by Assad, or falling into the hands of the rebels, most of whom are Al Queda fighters. Brilliant.
The Red Line - First of all, I find Obama's attempt at disassociating himself from the "red line" he drew when declaring that the use or even MOVEMENT of WMDs in Syria would "change the calculus" and be intolerable. Worse, there is no precedent in the international community for us to "intervene" on the use of chemical weapons in the first place.
Iraq used chemical weapons in two 1987 attacks during their eight-year war against Iran without any outside intervention. Libya used chemical weapons against Chad in the same year, again with no outside intervention. Most infamously, Saddam Hussein used chemical weapons as a means of genocide against the Kurds in Halabja in 1988, killing more than 5,000 non-combatants, without any international military response (although it was one of the many justifications used by the US and UN in 1991 for Operation Desert Storm and in 2003’s second invasion of Iraq). One can certainly argue that all of these incidents called for American or global intervention, but not that the world laid down a red line for armed response to their use. -http://www.thefiscaltimes.com/Columns/2013/09/05/Obamas-War-in-Syria-Misguided-and-Doomed-to-Fail#page1
We have no support amongst our regular allies for the use of military action against Assad and many could argue that an attack on Syria will actually violate international law. These factors are more than enough to make us think twice.
Consequences - When playing chess, it helps to be able to think several moves ahead in order to both plan and conduct your strategy. Real life is no different and it isn't hard to be able to postulate some of the responses from various countries around the world. First off, both Iran and Russia have large number of military advisers, and in some cases actual soldiers, serving in Syria. Neither country would respond well to their deaths, whether intentional or unintentional. Russia has already made it clear that it views an American intervention to be illegal, and would prefer a UN response (which it can handily veto.) Iran has already declared that if America attacks, Israel would be their first target, so we can expect Hezbollah and even Hamas to jump on that bandwagon. It's even conceivable that Iran's military might attack oil shipping in the Gulf, just to launch an economic attack on us. Sink eight or nine supertankers and the price of oil will skyrocket to the moon, making an already strenuous economic situation in the US even more difficult. In Syria itself we have to look at the possibility that the Rebels will win against Assad, thus taking control of the country and no doubt installing an Islamic government that hates us even worse than they hate Assad. They will have weapons of mass destruction available, ties to Al Queda, and sit at Israel's door step. And this isn't a cause for concern?
Credibility - Many supporters of the President talk about our credibility, saying that if we don't act, America proves that we are gutless posers and that this will embolden our enemies. I disagree. Foreign nations understand exactly what America is: a strong, powerful country with a gutless poser who is politically weak serving as president. Obama is the fact of this nation and he has little respect on the foreign stage. Iran is already emboldened, so what more could we possibly do to discourage them? I hardly think a few missile strikes on Syria will discourage the Iranians from supporting Assad, much less to stop their nuclear weapons program.
Competence - And last but not least, comes the issue of competence, or perhaps incompetence is the right word. The Obama Administration has demonstrated a complete lack of skill at negotiating the pitfalls and perils of foreign policy, from the failed apologetics and internationalism of Obama's first term, to the failed and terrorist ridden state of Libya, his vacillating support of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, to the covert arming of Syrian rebels, and the lack of security at so many of our consulates. Obama has mismanaged both domestic and foreign issues with the same blank stare incompetence that has become a hallmark of his presidency. And so many Americans, even if they support the idea of military intervention, balk at allowing a man who can't even manage to keep informed on what his own administration is doing (in order to protect him politically of course) to lead this fight.
In summary, the cons of intervention in Syria far outweigh the moral need to punish Assad.