We don’t need to add Syria to our plate of problems

President Barack Obama wisely cooled his fervor for ordering military action against Syria. By seeking congressional authorization, he has created some time and space to consider the consequences of a deadly strike against a murderous dictator.

Our nation’s leaders in the Senate and House must use this time to determine if the Obama administration has ironclad evidence that Syria used chemical weapons against its own people. America entered Iraq on bad intelligence and, before that, started a war in Vietnam based on what many consider an intentionally false report about a non-existent attack in the Gulf of Tonkin.

We must not make that mistake again.

Congress must also press the president to detail America’s long-term plan regarding Syria. It’s not enough to slap an evil man on the wrist. That achieves nothing beyond rescuing Obama from his ill-advised statement saying the use of poison gas would cross “a red line.”

Polls show that an overwhelming majority of Americans oppose military action against Syria. And for good reason: Syria poses no security threat, has not attacked Americans at home or abroad and there is no reason to suspect it is planning any future attack.

If Obama has a long-term plan, he hasn’t revealed it. The day after we launch a military strike, Syrian President Assad will still be in power and will no doubt continue a civil war and kill more of his own people.

It’s up to Congress to ask what Obama wants to achieve in Syria. It’s not clear.

Americans might be persuaded to support military action if they had confidence that Obama is playing a game of chess in the Middle East, and thinking four or five moves into the future. If the Syrian action fits into a long-term strategy for creating peace, or at least diminishing the suffering of people oppressed by cruel tyrants, he might win support in the polls and in Congress.

But with the memory of Iraq so fresh, we’re worried that Obama has no such strategy. Is it more likely the president is playing checkers, rather than chess, and that killing other Syrian people through a unilateral strike serves no higher purpose?

Americans are tired of war, and weary of spending our tax dollars on policing the world’s criminals. Where is the international outrage? Why is this our responsibility alone?

Assad is a bad man doing terrible things. He’s not the only one. In North Korea, another evil despot is executing people for no good reason and conducting inhuman experiments on living human beings in Camp 22. There will be others.

Where does the United States’ responsibility begin and end? More importantly, what is Obama’s long-term plan for achieving peace in the Middle East and how does a military strike assist in that plan?

Congress should say no to a strike against Syria, unless it is to join an action led by a coalition of other nations with a clear objective of positively impacting the Syrian conflict. Obama should abide that decision.