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. NorCalMojo

    Common sense dictates that we wait for the UN report and build a better case for it.

    Neocons have been known to exagerate and distort wishful evidence in the past. They're obviously still in control of our foreign policy. People aren't going to accept it at face value again.

    September 8, 2013 01:07 pm at 1:07 pm |
  2. Felix M.

    Does the US have to push their beliefs of other countries? An Empire does this.

    September 8, 2013 01:08 pm at 1:08 pm |
  3. Yes it is

    ANYTHING involved with the middle east IS IRAQ AND AFGHANISTAN.

    It's all the same. A third world region fighting over religion with either a dictator or crazy Islamists killing children, women and having their people flee to other countries flooding other countries with refugees It is all the same. Then Western countries will have attacks on innocent civilians this time it won't just be from Muslims it will now be from Syrians upset at Western involvement in their stupid wars.

    YES it is all the same no matter how you slice it. Thanks for putting innocent Americans in more danger because of your stupid foreign policy.

    The middle east is the middle east time to change your foreign policy when dealing with a cancer on the whole world.

    September 8, 2013 01:08 pm at 1:08 pm |
  4. Rob

    This from the same group that tells us the NSA is not listening to us and then we find out in 2011 Obama went to his secret court and had any restriction to spy on Americans removed and they have been doing it openly ever since. This is just one of the many many lies from Obama and his gang and just one in a very long list of reasons NOT to trust Obama. This is a civil war and one we have no business in.

    September 8, 2013 01:09 pm at 1:09 pm |
  5. Brian Smith

    Yes, attack them with CHEMICAL WEAPONS – that will solve everything.

    September 8, 2013 01:09 pm at 1:09 pm |
  6. kafantaris2

    "Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free."
    These words on the Statute of Liberty reflect that we are a magnanimous people and that our country is the beacon of hope for the world.
    Yet, we have grown weary of this role and of the sacrifices it entails, as parents grow tired of the sacrifices entailed in raising good children.
    But just as parents cannot abandon their sacred role, neither can we abandon the work that has defined us. Not only because there is no one else around to take our place, but also because there is no one around the world would trust. This is so despite the daily criticism - and sometimes vitriol - hurtled against us.
    Let us soldier on then, and keep jumping over the hurdles and through the hoops, as we had done the past century.
    And let us remember that though the world does not always agree with us, it still deems us its de facto leader - its brightest and singular example of how things should be.

    September 8, 2013 01:10 pm at 1:10 pm |
  7. Fred- 90 years old

    Common sense is NOT happening when a Dictator gasses his own people for no reason, when he knows the response will
    be his End.

    September 8, 2013 01:10 pm at 1:10 pm |
  8. Orpus

    I voted for Obama. Twice. And I will tell you this. If the Obama administration goes ahead with punitive action against Assad without the support of the American people. Without the go ahead of the Congress and the Senate. Without the backing of the Worlds Nations. He deserves to be impeached. And brought up on criminal charges.

    September 8, 2013 01:10 pm at 1:10 pm |
  9. jcinter

    WH chief said " Common sense" is the evidence that Al Assad's army used the chemical weapons on civilians. The media has been reporting there are so many Islamic extremists embedded in the Syrian army. These Al Qaeda collaborators can easily access the chemical weapons, too. When the rebels, Al Qaeda included, are losing the war, their best way to win is drag the western idiots into this civil war by attacking the civilians with their stolen chemical weapons.

    Common sense is the least reliable reason to start a war. Shame on the Whitehouse.

    September 8, 2013 01:11 pm at 1:11 pm |
  10. Ben

    Why are there so many tin foil hat comments here. When you use words like "global elites" I know for a fact your source is infowars. That's pretty sad. Too many Americans decide to foil a tin hat and actually believe it will protect them from harm. We don't discuss the actual issue. Instead we discuss make believe issues...

    September 8, 2013 01:11 pm at 1:11 pm |
  11. JiminNM

    The U.S., U.K., France and others are far more responsible than officially communicated, actually being guilty of war crimes. The test of humanity is whether or not you care that these countries have committed war crimes.

    September 8, 2013 01:11 pm at 1:11 pm |
  12. Jason

    There is no evidence as to the chemical attack being carried out by the Syrian government,it could have been the rebels as a ploy to get U.S support to over throw the Syrian government.

    September 8, 2013 01:12 pm at 1:12 pm |
  13. JOhn

    Common Sense tells me my government needs to be overthrown.
    If Tyranny and Oppression come to this land, it will be in the guise of fighting a foreign enemy.
    -James Madison

    September 8, 2013 01:12 pm at 1:12 pm |
  14. ddwest

    When is the United States going to learn to mind their own business,and take care of our own problems at home. We are not the worlds policeman. No one died and made us God! The US thinks our way is the only right way to do things, and we should be the supreme law of the world. Well I think the Romans felt the same way, and look what happened to their empire.
    Are we history repeating its self?

    September 8, 2013 01:12 pm at 1:12 pm |
  15. amitore

    Only brain death people will believe a statement like that.Assad knew better not to do that because the whole world will turn against him.This administration are in a box, and the only thing they want to do is to save the face of the most incompetent clueless man ever to be in the WH>

    September 8, 2013 01:12 pm at 1:12 pm |
  16. Jim

    I believe nothing this administration says. They have proved over and over they are nothing but liars. They will say whatever fits their wishes.

    September 8, 2013 01:12 pm at 1:12 pm |
  17. chris mills

    Where is the news report from several ago stating that Russian were providing security for Asaad's chemical weapons?

    September 8, 2013 01:13 pm at 1:13 pm |
  18. Rocco

    The article talks about common sense and nearly in the same breath says "somehow we get dragged into the middle of an ongoing civil war." Really? Seriously? The American public doesn't want another war, stay out of Syria!!

    September 8, 2013 01:14 pm at 1:14 pm |
  19. Booseyboo

    “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.”

    Hmmm...sounds a little similar to why we went to war with Iraq.

    September 8, 2013 01:14 pm at 1:14 pm |
  20. whatpresidenthuh

    Why are our so-called leaders so willing to spend our money (which we don't have) on supporting our enemies against our other enemies? Let them kill each other off! Iraq was our ally under Hussein, then we declared war on him and spent billions and lost many American Lives. Bin Laden was our ally before we declared war on him and Afghanistan. Syria will be a repeat in 10 years or less. Fix America before we sacrifice our sons, fathers, daughters, moms, and friends for rebels whos gives a rat's tail about us.

    September 8, 2013 01:15 pm at 1:15 pm |
  21. Sue Frasier

    Yeah but they do NOT have the support of the USA military veterans, and without that, you've got NOTHING at all. If the public voice is not good enough to consider as a priority in this issue of Syria, then may you all be dammed in the next round of elections.

    September 8, 2013 01:16 pm at 1:16 pm |
  22. mike Lake Orion Michigan

    If the White House has plenty of support they won't and don't receive my support! I simply don't trust this Administration!

    September 8, 2013 01:16 pm at 1:16 pm |
  23. Chuck D.

    Compton sense? Since when has common sense had anything to do with the lunacy in Washington. This administration spends most of its time defying common sense.

    September 8, 2013 01:16 pm at 1:16 pm |
  24. James Bundren

    Whatever public servant representative votes for action against Syria needs to be voted out next election. PERIOD.

    After that, the people need to demand TERM LIMITS for the public servants. NO MORE CAREER POLITICIANS!!

    September 8, 2013 01:17 pm at 1:17 pm |
  25. Sean

    Everybody is saying in plain English NO WAR, I don't know why the Obama admin doesn't get it, is it so difficult to understand English nowadays!!!!

    September 8, 2013 01:17 pm at 1:17 pm |
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