Facing a war weary public at home and an irresolute international community, President Obama has decided to take his case for action against Bashar al-Assad to Congress. In an ironic turn of events, the do-nothing Congress had a momentous decision at its doorstep that will impact countless lives in Syria and the region.

For more than two years President Assad of Syria has led the slaughter of his own population without remorse. Approximately 100,000 people have been killed by the regime and over one million children alone have been forced to flee the state. These numbers by themselves are staggering and deserve due attention. When a leader of any state commits these kinds of atrocities against his own people it becomes a moral imperative to intervene. Further, this imperative should strike us at our core not as merely citizens of America, but as members of the human race.

Military intervention has an admitted tendency to carry terminological baggage, especially in the wake of the Iraq and Afghanistan Wars. If the court of public opinion exists, then these wars have been found guilty on all charges. Nevertheless, that the public remains skeptical of a phrase and weary of two wars does not relinquish our obligation as citizens of the world to protect our brothers and sisters overseas. It is to the detriment of the international community that it took as long as it did to act in Bosnia in the mid-1990s. Fortunately that network acted quicker in Kosovo to prevent the further extermination of a people in 1999. When staring at a humanitarian crisis, we can either keep watching or do something about it. In Syria, it is high time to intervene.

After examining the situation in Syria over the past two years, it is clear that Bashar Assad is not simply ‘just another bad guy.’ Here is a man who has overseen the deliberate massacre of his own population to an unfathomable extent. Using the regime’s airpower, Assad has been able to inflict alarming amounts of damage against the Syrian people. In addition, recent allegations of a chemical weapons attack launched by the Syrian regime, which led to the deaths of over 1,400 people, has placed the Syrian ruler in distinct company. The only other ruler to use chemical weapons against his own civilian population in recent history is Saddam Hussein, who gassed the Kurdish people in a genocidal massacre in Halabja in 1988. The use of these weapons is a crime against humanity, and only adds to the abysmal record of Assad’s assault on his own people.

Unfortunately, the current plan of action concerning Syria that lies before Congress does not go far enough. The fact of the matter is that lobbing cruise missiles toward particular targets in a ‘limited’ manner, as the plan calls for, will not suffice to prevent the continued slaughter of the Syrian people. Moreover, such a scheme would send a woeful message to Bashar Assad, whose larger takeaway would have to be that a murderous ruler could get away with anything at the expense of his own population without consequences. If crimes against humanity are to be taken seriously, then the punishment for the violation of such crimes must take the form of an actual punishment, not just a slap on the wrist. The United States tried similar measures in Iraq with regard to Saddam Hussein in 1998, and the results of that experiment are miserable at best. No, regime change, to use another loaded term, must be the stated goal in Syria. Unless Assad is removed from power, the Syrian people will continue to face annihilation in this brutal civil war that has already persisted for far too long.

Now, to advocate for the toppling of the Assad regime in a country that has been plagued with civil war for more than two years is the easy part. The arduous part comes after Assad has been removed. At that moment, a power vacuum will have to be filled, and the rebel forces will stand the most probable chances of filling that void. Once Assad is gone, the rebels will surely rush in to take charge. Despite the catchy bumper sticker slogans and poster signs, however, the civil war in Syria is much more complex than a conflict between Assad’s regime and Al-Qaeda. To be certain, Jabhat al-Nusra, Al-Qaeda’s affiliate in Syria, has penetrated the rebel forces and is playing a large role in the fight against Assad. Yet, it is also the case that moderate forces within the rebel outfit are large in number and are also battling al-Nusra for strength and influence. Further, these moderate rebels have only turned to extremists because al-Nusra was able to offer the moderate forces what the international community was not, weapons and strategic depth. In other words, the relationship between the moderates and extremists within the rebels fighting Assad’s regime is largely a transactional one.

Once Bashar Assad is removed from power, these moderates inside the rebel body will have a powerful incentive to fill the vacuum he leaves behind. If extremists take over in Syria, moderates that are sympathetic to the basic causes of freedom and democratic rule will likely face continued bloodshed on behalf of the very extremists they once fought alongside. For that reason alone, skirmishes have been fought within the rebel forces between the extremists and moderates. So to say that an intervention in Syria means an alignment with Al-Qaeda is a stretch.

That is not to say, however, that precise plans of action are not required once Assad is removed. If the lessons of Iraq and Afghanistan have taught us anything, they have taught us that discarding the regime tends to be the simple part, all things considered. In Syria, for example, it may be the case that some in the regime have to be left in power for the sake of peace between both parties. Otherwise, revenge killings could be the norm throughout the state for a ghastly length of time. And who exactly are the moderates? How can we be sure that moderates will fill the power vacuum left by Assad? These are undoubtedly important questions that must be answered before any serious action is taken toward regime change. Military intervention is always an unpopular subject in the United States. ‘It’s not our fight,’ after all. Those of us on the Left, who consider ourselves internationalists first and foremost, know better than that. When a pitiless ruler massacres his own people, humanity cries out for an intervention. When looking in the direction of military action, the question, ‘what if something goes wrong?’ is raised at once. Indeed, many things could go awry in Syria. Extremists could gain more power within the rebel forces. Iran could decide to militarily act on Assad’s behalf, making America’s job that much more difficult.

Assad could use chemical weapons on civilians once again in the face of imminent defeat. These are all real possibilities that must be considered. On the other hand, inaction in the face of Bashar Assad’s civilian extermination is definitely an option. That option, however, has serious consequences that entail a world wherein murderous thugs can wreak havoc against their own civilian populations without consequences. That option is as dangerous as it is irresponsible, and rails against every principle that we on the Left hold dear.

So while pessimistic questions are raised concerning military action in Syria, there is one question above all that must stand above the rest. What if it works?