September 8th, 2013
09:04 AM ET
1 year 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. John Armstead

    I support a strike on Syria-they cannot get away with hurting humanity there own people... Please make sure President OBAMA to eliminatethere choice to never do that again... May the GOD OF HEAVEN BLESS YOU is my prayer... there's an old song thatcomes to mind-Strengthen By the Mighty Power of Heaven, Press the Battle On-

    September 8, 2013 12:40 pm at 12:40 pm |
  2. Naomi

    The regime talks of common sense. That's really an oxymoron coming from them.

    September 8, 2013 12:40 pm at 12:40 pm |
  3. jimbo

    "Common Sense" is a matter of perspective. Other people might say that it's common sense that "Al Qaida" did this so that the US would go bankrupt starting wars all of the globe. "Common Sense" can't be used in a legal sense to convict people. So, "Common Sense" should not be used to send our troops into harms way.

    September 8, 2013 12:41 pm at 12:41 pm |
  4. may40

    Dear Scot,
    The president you voted for is a fraud and a phony. He's not George W Bush, because W had a real job before becoming president. Governor holds a bit more responsibility than community organizer. Your Obama was an empty suit in 08 and continues to be so. Only now we are really getting a look at just how empty. Bush went into Iraq with the Senate and Congress backing, oh and yes other countries as well. This guy is out of control. So I just want to thank you and all the rest of the low info voters for getting us into this mess. Btw, the economy under this president is in worse shape now than ever...gasoline prices skyrocketting, welfare, EBT cards on the rise, division of blacks and white. Next election do us all a favor and stay home.

    September 8, 2013 12:41 pm at 12:41 pm |
  5. Richard Koury

    Obama, Kerry, McCain & Graham are all lying to the American people. They have no proof that the Syrian government was involved and in fact the evidence leads to the Salafist terrorist exported to Syria by Prince Bandar of Saudi Arabia.
    Why don't our lawmakers fix the problems in this country like education, employment, housing, etc.

    September 8, 2013 12:41 pm at 12:41 pm |
  6. Hogarth

    When has the government ever told the truth in the run-up to war? Is there any reason to trust them now? THAT is the question that needs to be answered.

    September 8, 2013 12:41 pm at 12:41 pm |
  7. Les

    " McDonough said it’s “common sense” that the Syrian regime carried out the deadly chemical weapons attack last month"

    Common sense if you are a MORON, or getting paid by the Sunnis to help them destroy Russia's monopoly on moving oil and gas to Europe and helping the Sunnis get their pipeline through instead.

    Anyone who supports backing AL QUEDA AND AL NUSRA take over Syria needs to be imprisoned in Gitmo.

    September 8, 2013 12:42 pm at 12:42 pm |
  8. bdby

    Yes this attack was sad and killed a lot of innocents. Unfortunately this administration wants us to believe hands down that Assad had done this. Mind you I am not sticking up for his dictatorship. But the right questions are not being asked and answered for the American people. Why isn’t the question being raised to ask: “Did any of the rebels have their hand in this?” They of all people have a lot of motivation to do this themselves to get the USA to strike Assad. Why isn’t SATALLITE IMAGERY of those missiles coming from the regimes side being shown to the American public? That will go a long way to convince the American people that his regime is in fact guilty. The administration used imagery before to convince Americans that it was true that Iraq had WMD, so the administration can’t say “We can’t show you” because of their methods and sources claim.

    Dam the methods and sources claim. Show the American people the proof. We don’t want to be left holding the bag again as it was in Iraq. If he did fire those missiles then the other boot should fall on him.

    September 8, 2013 12:43 pm at 12:43 pm |
  9. Y

    So, they indicate it will be a limited, targeted attack and that will be it. Are they assuming Assad will not retaliate? Iran won't come to the aid of their ally? What if someone starts shooting missiles at our ships in the Mediterranean or the Arabian Gulf? What then?

    September 8, 2013 12:43 pm at 12:43 pm |
  10. Mike500

    Ok, so we launch a 'targeted and limited' attack, and Assad uses gas again. Then what? Another targeted and limited attack?

    September 8, 2013 12:43 pm at 12:43 pm |
  11. Melanie Richard

    John F Kennedy and his brother Bobby both wrote in their memorandum's about their regret to listening to their Joint Chief's of Staff and how out of the people surrounding them discussing issues of Cuban Missile Crisis more than half of those involved would have caused a nuclear holocaust if given the Presidency.
    Where are the cool heads in this Syria situation???? There are other ways to solve problems. We probably made the durn chemical weapons they used in the first place.

    September 8, 2013 12:44 pm at 12:44 pm |
  12. Martin

    Are you sure they're not confusing "truthiness" with "common sense"?

    September 8, 2013 12:46 pm at 12:46 pm |
  13. majestylebong

    u.s has money for war but cant feed the poor -tupac

    September 8, 2013 12:46 pm at 12:46 pm |
  14. leonardwood13

    "McDonough said it’s “common sense” that the Syrian regime carried out the deadly chemical weapons attack last month"

    No actually "Common sense" would more indicate the Assad regime didn't do it.

    September 8, 2013 12:46 pm at 12:46 pm |
  15. arizonapatriot

    Obama condemned an ridiculed Bush for his handling of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, now it's his turn to feal the condemnation of the Americans who can see the difference between allies and terrorists.

    September 8, 2013 12:47 pm at 12:47 pm |
  16. jpwickl

    I love the misleading comments by cnn and the chief of staff. "This is not a repeat of Iraq or Afghanistan." Then, the first sentence of the article mentions actions in the Middle East and North Africa.. For the uninformed, Libya is in North Africa. and obama was president when we were in Libya.

    September 8, 2013 12:47 pm at 12:47 pm |
  17. MEHRAN SAAM, PHD

    No, they don't have any support. Everyone is against this war and all other wars they still want to concoct. People are not stupid. We have seen all their stupid wars. Everyone knows war is not a solution, except the morons that is. Warmongers must be labelled as such and should be the only ones deployed to the wars of their own making.

    September 8, 2013 12:48 pm at 12:48 pm |
  18. omeany

    Even if Asad cane out and admitted he used chemical weapons on his own people it still does not persuade me that the US needs to interfere with their civil war.

    We've paid enough in money and blood in pointless military actions that have brought us nothing in return. Enough already! We can't go on being the policeman of the world. Stay out of Syria.

    September 8, 2013 12:48 pm at 12:48 pm |
  19. Clarke

    There is no guarantee that a military strike will NOT kill innocent people, that being the case, then we are not any better than the people who killed innocent people with chemical weapons. We have moral support, but we need military support as well.

    September 8, 2013 12:48 pm at 12:48 pm |
  20. nativam

    There is no common sense in the WH. It's all me first.

    September 8, 2013 12:48 pm at 12:48 pm |
  21. VEW2012

    There are many reasons why Assad did this. One being that he knew there would be the chant of – Why would it benefit him? Assad is the one with the weapons and the means. I think he is past caring about international condemnation. He is now to the point of desensitizing the rest of the world to his ruthlessness. Ask yourself why Saddam was able to gas 40 Kurdish villages, and get away with it?

    September 8, 2013 12:49 pm at 12:49 pm |
  22. Calif US Patriot

    Of course its not Iraq. President Bush had more financial, moral and military support than this president does.

    September 8, 2013 12:49 pm at 12:49 pm |
  23. barcroft45

    Modern technology now allows for the rapid and uncontrolled access to natural gas resources, exchange of information, global cooperation and the potential is now present for raising the standard of living for all humanity. Global planning on natural gas distribution must now be the order of the day."

    September 8, 2013 12:49 pm at 12:49 pm |
  24. Not really alone

    The one underlying factor which has yet to emerge in the press is the dangerous reliance Obama has and continues to place on the advice and wishes of Vallerie Jarrett. We have since learned that Obama continually blew off the advice of Hillary Clinton when she was secretary of state, David Petraeus when he was in charge of the CIA, and Panetta when he was Defense Secretary, when it came to foreign policy regarding Syria. We learned that he consulted next to none of his cabinet with his "surprise" decision regarding Congressional approval with which he has painted himself into a difficult corner. Valerie Jarrett has her fingerprints on EVERY decision he makes and her grip on her power is alarming if not chilling. We saw it most glaringly leading up to the first debates, we saw it with Benghazi, and we just witnessed it again with Syria (both the red line and the congressional approval play). His reckless reliance on Jarrett and her maniacal control over the First Couple are subtly referred to by a long long list of "former" members of Obama's cabinet. People need to wake up and discover the almost reckless reliance and dangerously misplaced influence this person has over the affairs of our Nation. Perhaps this unwinding of events will finally inspire the press to explore this ever so sensitive ground.

    September 8, 2013 12:50 pm at 12:50 pm |
  25. PSYmuffin

    If the people of USA wish to send a much needed message it should be sent to the politicians in Washington.
    Do not re-elect McCain and impeach BO
    It is they have crossed the "red line"

    September 8, 2013 12:52 pm at 12:52 pm |
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