September 8th, 2013
09:04 AM ET
12 months ago

WH chief of staff: ‘This is not Iraq or Afghanistan’

(CNN) – White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough argued Sunday that a military strike in Syria would not be a repeat of previous U.S. involvements in the Middle East or North Africa.

On CNN’s “State of the Union,” McDonough said it’s “common sense” that the Syrian regime carried out the deadly chemical weapons attack last month that the U.S. government says left more than 1,400 dead in a Damascus suburb. He added the Obama administration feels “very good about the support” it has from other countries, though he wouldn’t say whether any of that support goes beyond moral backing.

Following two congressional hearings last week and multiple classified briefings, many members of Congress expressed fears of escalated involvement in the region should the U.S. intervene militarily.

McDonough acknowledged the risks are “manyfold,” saying one fear is that “somehow we get dragged into the middle of an ongoing civil war.” But he argued the U.S. plans to be “be very careful and very targeted and very limited in our engagement.”

“This is not Iraq or Afghanistan. This is not Libya,” he told CNN’s chief political correspondent, Candy Crowley. “This is not an extended air campaign. This is something that's targeted, limited and effective, so as to underscore that (Syrian President Bashar al-Assad) should not think that he could get away with this again.”

His comments echoed sentiments from President Barack Obama’s weekly address on Saturday, in which the president pledged U.S. action would not amount to “an open-ended intervention.”

McDonough, speaking about the August chemical attack, said the fact that the materials were delivered by the kind of rockets that the regime has, and on-the-ground videos of people dying without physical wounds, are key points of proof.

But he stopped short of providing a direct link between al-Assad and the alleged chemical weapons attack.

“Now do we have irrefutable, beyond reasonable doubt evidence? This is not a court of law, and intelligence does not work that way,” McDonough said, adding common sense says "he is responsible for this. He should be held accountable.”

First on CNN: Videos show glimpse into evidence for Syria intervention

On Friday, leaders from 10 countries - Australia, Canada, France, Italy, Japan, Saudi Arabia, South Korea, Spain, Turkey, and the United Kingdom — released a statement in line with the U.S.
condemnation of Syria’s use of chemical weapons, calling for “a strong international response” but not mentioning military action. And U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry acknowledged Saturday a European Union statement that also offered moral support but not military support.

Pressed on whether there are any countries willing to provide military equipment or assistance, McDonough continued to point to statements of moral support.

“We have plenty of support. I’m not going to get into who's going to do what in any particular operation. We feel very good about the support we have,” he said.

Watch State of the Union with Candy Crowley Sundays at 9am ET. For the latest from State of the Union click here.


Filed under: Denis McDonough • Syria • TV-State of the Union
soundoff (623 Responses)
  1. brian

    The Tonkin Gulf Resolution had "plenty of support" – and the whole "incident" turned out to be bogus according to American soldiers who were there at the time. Duh!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    September 8, 2013 12:21 pm at 12:21 pm |
  2. Carol

    If Obama authorizes use of missiles – the first should be faced toward the White House to give him a taste of his own medicine – stay the heck out of other people's problems – we have enough of our own. Protect our children and let other countries do the same for their children. I don't feel like a world leader – I feel like a trouble maker and busy body. US leadership made me feel that way.

    September 8, 2013 12:22 pm at 12:22 pm |
  3. wasserball

    'We have plenty of support,' WH says.. That's like let the USA get its hands dirty. When USA tries to become the god of the world, determines what is right or wrong, it undermines the United Nation as an organization.

    September 8, 2013 12:22 pm at 12:22 pm |
  4. Name

    Plenty of support? You Do NOT HAVE IT FROM THE AMERICAN PEOPLE THO. REMEMBER US? Your employers ..the taxpayers?

    September 8, 2013 12:22 pm at 12:22 pm |
  5. billmelater1

    All this push so Obama can save face for a red line comment. If they, Obama and his minions would spend half of this energy in solving our budget, jobs, and health care problems we would be better off. But Noooo

    September 8, 2013 12:22 pm at 12:22 pm |
  6. arizonaputz

    Oboza is a gotdayum Jewish putz....don't bother to answer!

    September 8, 2013 12:23 pm at 12:23 pm |
  7. ssb

    I implicitly trust Mr. Mc Donogh and stuff. I am certain he will only do what is good.

    September 8, 2013 12:24 pm at 12:24 pm |
  8. Jimbo

    Spending more money on people who hate us to accomplish what? It is as if the USA has battered spouse syndrome. Even though they hate us and would try to hurt us at every chance, we keep coming back to "help" them.

    In my opinion, military action would:
    1) Upset most of the free world.
    2) Spar with Russia who already laugh at our (lack of) leadership.
    3) Further deplete our military while Russia and China have stockpiled (scary).
    4) Put our assets and personnel at risk.
    5) Go against those that you are supposed to represent.

    More kids have died in the US since the chem bombing from gangster BS. If the POTUS would simply learn to keep his mouth shut, this would not be an issue (red line). Syria had chemical weapons going 1700 years back and here we are in 2013 and nothing has changed. Syria is bombing Syria,...and we are somehow surprised by this. Palin said it best with "Let Allah sort it out".

    I am deeply concerned with what Russia and China are planning now,...realizing that they have a precious window of opportunity open knowing full well that the US is extremely vulnerable during the remaining portion of this administration's 2nd term.

    I sure do miss Reagan.

    September 8, 2013 12:25 pm at 12:25 pm |
  9. billmelater1

    Yea I love the support. It is like a bunch of people standing around the bully and edging him on to beat up the little guy but none of them will get involved..

    September 8, 2013 12:25 pm at 12:25 pm |
  10. Gyrogearloose

    If you have to say 'We have plenty of support', then you probably don't have enough.

    September 8, 2013 12:26 pm at 12:26 pm |
  11. Brad

    When did Obama start being a Republican and when did the Republicans become anti war. Somehow the world is topsy turvy these days. The last thing this country needs is another war but you can believe that our Congressmen and Pres. our being paid under the table at this very moment by the war contractors and makers of war machines. Huge money is changing hands as I write!

    September 8, 2013 12:26 pm at 12:26 pm |
  12. Jose

    The president intention to attack Syria seems to me is something even more than just the chemical attack. Why he waits to 100,000 people to die to act now? because they used chemical a weapons?. Israel attacking Syria, Lebanon and with intentions to attack Iran. In my opinion United States is looking to fight with Iran because of Israel security.

    September 8, 2013 12:26 pm at 12:26 pm |
  13. jen

    If I wanted a dictator I would have voted for Putin, at least he knows what he is doing. makes no sense to help rebels that could be Al Queda

    September 8, 2013 12:27 pm at 12:27 pm |
  14. Dick LaTrick

    The problem isn't who did it ... the issue is how can we the USA HELP... WITHOUT dropping BOMBS.

    September 8, 2013 12:27 pm at 12:27 pm |
  15. dnokc

    I'm not at all certain this is a worth endeavor...but you have to admit it has taken immigration, and most of the heat of the scandals off the radar.

    September 8, 2013 12:27 pm at 12:27 pm |
  16. April

    In a word,"Trust" ! I don't trust this administration, nor does the Nation and world leaders.

    September 8, 2013 12:27 pm at 12:27 pm |
  17. JUST SAY NO

    NO!

    September 8, 2013 12:28 pm at 12:28 pm |
  18. Adam

    I guess the other 100000 killed by bullets and bombs don't matter. The others killed by the last gas attack don't either. That red is pretty lose. Hey we all know when obama speaks he doesn't really mean what he says. That red line was set by the world not him.

    September 8, 2013 12:28 pm at 12:28 pm |
  19. Calif US Patriot

    Why is it that this president wanted to spy and gather more intelligence on our allies (Brazil, England, Germany, etc), and hasn't done a thing about gathering intelligence on our enemies – Benghazi attack, Egypt Muslim Brotherhood, Syria's Assad regime?

    September 8, 2013 12:29 pm at 12:29 pm |
  20. Tim

    Russia and China are sending warships to the area. Do we want to start a conflict that will make 2 enemies out of other world super powers? I THINK NOT! Especially ones with tens of thousands of nukes. Ones that are backing Iran. Ones that are offering to make a diplomatic resolution for the Syrian crisis alongside the US. WHO CARES if Assad stays in power in the end as long as he is following international rules. A diplomatic solution is always much better than physical force and isn't that how Obama won a nobel peace prize? Tear that thing up and put it through the shredder because he could care less about the will of the people and surely can care less about the future security of our country and military bases across the globe. IMPEACH IF HE STRIKES SYRIA!

    September 8, 2013 12:29 pm at 12:29 pm |
  21. NC

    "On CNN’s “State of the Union,” McDonough said it’s “common sense” that the Syrian regime carried out the deadly chemical weapons attack last month that the U.S. government says left more than 1,400 dead in a Damascus suburb."

    It's also common sense to know that it's not a good idea to interfere with the affairs of another country, especially when both sides involved are as unstable and untrustworthy as they are. Especially so in light of what happened in Iraq and Afghanistan...

    With all due respect, there is some f@#cked up thinking in the leadership of this country.

    September 8, 2013 12:29 pm at 12:29 pm |
  22. Richard Hode

    ' “Now do we have irrefutable, beyond reasonable doubt evidence? This is not a court of law, and intelligence does not work that way,” McDonough said '

    I guess maybe the intelligence people gave "the least untruthful answer possible" when Obama went looking for a pretext to help the al-Qaida rebels overthrow the Syrian government. It's too bad we don't have a parliamentarian system where we could oust the executive by a vote of no confidence, like the British. If we had, Obama would now be back in Chicago furiously organizing some community or other – the ceiling of his level of competence.

    September 8, 2013 12:29 pm at 12:29 pm |
  23. CCC

    I wish someone at CNN would explain to me how if a gas attack occurred, some were dead, and some were left very much alive and able to film the situation.

    September 8, 2013 12:30 pm at 12:30 pm |
  24. NoBomb

    No boots on the ground is a crock, they have anti-aircraft missiles, they have anti-ship missiles. Hello is everyone stupid just go to YouTube and see how much crap Russia has sold to them and how much Iran has. This is a HUGE mistake I know this is another reason behind this. They must have something we don't know about that they are not telling us. Think about how quickly the Obama haters started backing him up. And yes I regret voting for him as well because they say they were broke furloughed us gov workers yet they got money to do this now. Please

    September 8, 2013 12:30 pm at 12:30 pm |
  25. psrandy1

    Sorry to say that I have lost faith in trusting anything that our politicians say. I don't believe the polls, I don't believe what they say and I don't believe Russia or China would do anything to us for it. What could they do? Attack the United States? Wipe out their own countries as well? Would China want to destroy the United States when they own most of it? When I hear it compared to the Cuban missile crisis I can tell you It ISN'T anything like the Cuban Missile Crisis. I was in that and I know the differences. Not sure how they can compare this situation to that. I think it is a test of politics and possibly a bit hinged on Pride. I am glad our country has a bit more checks and safety controls so that ONE man can not just go CrAzY and order attacks. Is it a matter of whose stronger and who will blink first? Sad days.

    September 8, 2013 12:30 pm at 12:30 pm |
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