In addition to budget cuts, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have strained the military but also taught military leaders valuable lessons. Dempsey wrote: "We have learned from the past 10 years; however, that it is not enough to simply alter the balance of military power without careful consideration of what is necessary in order to preserve a functioning state. ... Should the regime's institutions collapse in the absence of a viable opposition, we could inadvertently empower extremists or unleash the very chemical weapons we seek to control."
Rep. John Garamendi, D-California, echoed Dempsey's sentiment. "The past decade has amply demonstrated the folly of military commitments poorly conceived," he wrote in a statement.
Secretary of State John Kerry dismissed that argument. "Fatigue does not absolve us of our responsibility," he said Friday.
Despite concerns, support exists
However, some former top military leaders are coming out in support of a military strike. Gen. Wesley Clark, the former supreme commander of NATO who led military forces in the Kosovo war in 1999, laid out a grim assessment.
"At a time when the U.S. faces many other security threats, not to mention economic and political challenges at home, it is tempting to view action against Syria's regime as a significant distraction. Certainly, it also carries risks. ... You can't always control the script after you decide to launch a limited, measured attack," he wrote in an opinion piece Friday in USA Today.
Despite his measured tone, he said the humanitarian crisis is the U.S.'s responsibility.
"President Obama has rightly drawn a line at the use of chemical weapons. Some weapons are simply too inhuman to be used. And, as many of us learned during 1990s, in the words of President Clinton, 'Where we can make a difference, we must act.' "
Dempsey has not made any public statements about U.S. intervention. He's scheduled to testify on Tuesday before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.