September 8th, 2013
09:04 AM ET
7 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. ryan

    The President has no friends in D.C. right now, maybe he needs to purchase a perfect polly pet.

    September 8, 2013 12:52 pm at 12:52 pm |
  2. panos941

    Who set off the chemical weapons is anything but “common sense” and to assume so, closes the door on truly understanding the complexity of the Middle East.

    The West has to choose between a secular dictator or an Islamist dictator.

    September 8, 2013 12:52 pm at 12:52 pm |
  3. blackeyeartistry

    My country has been hijacked by these global elites and these wars are just another way of furthering their tyranny . No to t his war.

    September 8, 2013 12:53 pm at 12:53 pm |
  4. Steve

    I'd like to know where this 'plenty of support' is???? Certainly not from your own people – better listen to them this time – they've about had it with the whole Federal Government!!

    September 8, 2013 12:54 pm at 12:54 pm |
  5. jamie

    "We have plenty of support" the White House says. But non of it is from the citizens of the USA. They don't care what the citizens of the USA want. The citizens are those who will have their "boots" on the ground. Not the administration. They push countries into going along or face USA consequences. That is how USA diplomacy works.

    September 8, 2013 12:55 pm at 12:55 pm |
  6. Alan

    More so than being war weary, I don't trust President Obama to stay the course on this Syria issue. The man has no core to him, he will fold the tents and retreat the first time things don't go our way or his poll numbers fall. Mark my words, Obama will be a "paper tiger" just like Clinton in Somalia (anyone remember the Black Hawn down incident?).

    September 8, 2013 12:56 pm at 12:56 pm |
  7. Rev.Christie Bliss Ley

    The action that makes no sense is our getting involved.

    September 8, 2013 12:56 pm at 12:56 pm |
  8. NoMoreWars

    “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.”

    Common sense?? This is lawlessness!! Please don't add to the confusion and killings!!

    September 8, 2013 12:57 pm at 12:57 pm |
  9. JCDavis

    "On CNN’s “State of the Union,” McDonough said it’s “common sense” that the Syrian regime carried out the deadly chemical weapons attack..."

    McDonough is obviously no great friend of common sense, as it says the exact opposite.

    September 8, 2013 12:57 pm at 12:57 pm |
  10. aspblom

    War mongers!

    September 8, 2013 12:57 pm at 12:57 pm |
  11. Luke

    If you are going to go attack people, you better have more than common sense in hand. Because your common sense may not be as comnon as you think.

    September 8, 2013 12:58 pm at 12:58 pm |
  12. Cheryl

    I don't care how many countries are supporting U.S. involvement in Syria. All I care about is the opinion of the American public, and we do NOT support it. Let the countries who are gungho for us to screw things up and go further bankrupt step in and do something themselves for a change.

    September 8, 2013 12:58 pm at 12:58 pm |
  13. Tutuvabene

    Common sense dictates that the U.S. stay out of Syria and let nature take its course.

    September 8, 2013 12:58 pm at 12:58 pm |
  14. Mark Pajak

    Once again, another weak statement from the Obama administration.

    "We don't have any evidence, because our intelligence services are inferior to other players, but common sense tells us it was the regime".

    Trillions of dollars are lavished upon the Secret Service, the CIA and so forth, and the best thing they can offer us is common sense?

    September 8, 2013 12:58 pm at 12:58 pm |
  15. anon

    This is total BS. Obama manipulated the intelligence. People are beginning to leak it. Anything coming from this government or the Obama administration is a lie, period. I no longer trust them with anything. They can talk all they want. They don't give a single shred of evidence.

    September 8, 2013 12:59 pm at 12:59 pm |
  16. Loathstheright

    I'm a liberal democrat and don't support doing anything more in the middle east, leave it and never go back. So maybe their support only comes from those who profit from war and destruction.

    September 8, 2013 01:01 pm at 1:01 pm |
  17. 50bjdkdonnci

    War: a condition of the nature of man.
    Peace: an abstract that history shows is unsustainable.

    September 8, 2013 01:01 pm at 1:01 pm |
  18. Robert

    We are talking about SYRIA for God's sake! Syria is NOT America! Stay out of this conflict!

    September 8, 2013 01:02 pm at 1:02 pm |
  19. cgs

    Plenty of support? Hahahahah I don't see it.

    September 8, 2013 01:03 pm at 1:03 pm |
  20. Clarke

    My biggest concern, is who really used the chemical weapons, do we know beyond a shadow of a doubt who it was and where they got them.

    September 8, 2013 01:03 pm at 1:03 pm |
  21. Joe

    common sense says that the rebels made the video because President stupid fell for this one last time.

    September 8, 2013 01:03 pm at 1:03 pm |
  22. Bob Dobalina

    WRONG! This is exactly like Iraq and Afghanistan.

    September 8, 2013 01:04 pm at 1:04 pm |
  23. Jimmy Ducks

    Whenever they say "common sense" dictates something must be done, THEY ARE LYING, plain and simple.

    September 8, 2013 01:06 pm at 1:06 pm |
  24. Lawman53

    Oh yeah, plenty of support by other countries, and how many troops are they sending? If this sob attacks Syria he should be impeached.

    September 8, 2013 01:06 pm at 1:06 pm |
  25. john

    These are the same people that refuse to investigate the controlled demolitions and illegal destruction of evidence that occurred right here on 9/11. They therefore have no credibility. They should get a vote of no confidence.

    September 8, 2013 01:07 pm at 1:07 pm |
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