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. Able

    “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 says the 153 IRS meetings at the White House involved the President. The anecdotal evidence is greater for this conclusion than that put forth for going to war.

    September 8, 2013 01:44 pm at 1:44 pm |
  2. Dr. A

    "We have plenty of support." In other words, we have NO support! As for common sense, we're still waiting for it to show up... haven't seen any yet...

    September 8, 2013 01:44 pm at 1:44 pm |
  3. r00t4rd3d

    Not one person I talked to in my daily life wants to do anything in Syria. Not one!

    Let Syria deal with Syria.

    September 8, 2013 01:45 pm at 1:45 pm |
  4. jakespoon

    Common sense tells me not to trust anyone,the administration, the Syrian gov or the "rebels". We have no friends in this fight.

    September 8, 2013 01:45 pm at 1:45 pm |
  5. Robert Palmer

    The statement "We have plenty of support..." is a big lie. Calls and emails from the President's public are running over 500 to 1 against any involvement by the US in Syria. Take heed Mr. President!

    September 8, 2013 01:47 pm at 1:47 pm |
  6. amitore

    Common sense is something Obama and his minions do not have.That is why we are in this mess.

    September 8, 2013 01:48 pm at 1:48 pm |
  7. WhiteHall

    "We Have Plenty of Support". ..... No you don't. Dream On.

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

    The whole world is ready to go to war to protect President Obama's credibility. What more noble death than to help Obama save face.

    September 8, 2013 01:52 pm at 1:52 pm |
  9. Erik Szpyra

    It is common sense that Obama is just another rank and file bloodthirsty politician. Change indeed...

    September 8, 2013 01:52 pm at 1:52 pm |
  10. nickG

    whatever credibility the white house had is gone.

    September 8, 2013 01:54 pm at 1:54 pm |
  11. Alan Morrison

    Here we go again. This reminds me of a nightmare that keeps repeating itself over and over and over. As Panos941 says so precisely " WHO set off the chemical weapons is anything but " common sense." As China and Russia has suggested, why on Gods green Earth would Assad use chemical weapons on his people when he is winning this war KNOWING that it would invite the wrath of the free World. Prudence tells you that waiting for the United Nations forensic report must be President Obama`s first step in assessing "WHO" used these chemical weapons. All I see from the 24 hour news-casts is someone used chemical weapons on the Syrian people and everyone is outraged as we should be....its an atrocity. But who used them seems to be a question that President Obama isn`t interested in. In hind-site......how could the President of the United States be so foolish to announce a military strike on a foreign country BEFORE he has Congressional approval? Now we are being told that no matter what, we must not allow the Office of the President of the United States to loss face with a no vote. My God its a nightmare.....

    September 8, 2013 01:54 pm at 1:54 pm |
  12. copper

    Since when has there been any "common sense" in the White House?

    September 8, 2013 01:56 pm at 1:56 pm |
  13. joesmom

    Plenty of support from the Saudi's, but NOT the American people!!

    September 8, 2013 01:57 pm at 1:57 pm |
  14. jimmy

    Take the money we are going to waste on a Syrian War and give it to Detroit for them to waste.

    September 8, 2013 01:58 pm at 1:58 pm |
  15. SuperReverb2

    Stay out! Nothing good can come from a military strike at this late date.

    September 8, 2013 01:58 pm at 1:58 pm |
  16. Deb Ed

    "Moral Support". Meaning that no country wants to get involved, but they will "cheer" us on and hope we don't screw up. Stay out of Syria. Obama is not listening to his employees (voters).

    September 8, 2013 02:00 pm at 2:00 pm |
  17. preobamaveteran

    "Commonsense" combined with 'Obama White House' is a self-canceling phrase.

    September 8, 2013 02:00 pm at 2:00 pm |
  18. Liz

    I think they just lost Fance, I guess Kerrys frencj didn't impress them.

    September 8, 2013 02:02 pm at 2:02 pm |
  19. Wisdom

    What hurts me as an American is the way we're being lied to and hoodwinked. This was war has nothing to do with women and children being gassed this war is all about the natural gas pipeline Saudi Arabia and the US are interested in, and because Syria has not bowed down to the Saudi Bush family and America we now plan to find a way to go into Syria and kill them. Seriously GOD is going to punish you wicked greedy men. All of you who are foolish enough to run to war without researching what is going on, and only believe our lying witch politicians deserve what you get. We're to defend our country not go to other peoples country and kill them, because we want they have. What if other countries did that to us.

    September 8, 2013 02:02 pm at 2:02 pm |
  20. jmatt

    The science is settled, no need to examine evidence or anything.

    Attack! Now! Attack!!! Hurry!!

    September 8, 2013 02:04 pm at 2:04 pm |
  21. Hilary

    I don't care if you idiots have video of Assad pressing the button, we don't belong there in any shape or form. NO BOMBING NO WAR IN SYRIA.

    September 8, 2013 02:05 pm at 2:05 pm |
  22. rplat

    You bet McDonough, and the moon is made of green cheer.

    September 8, 2013 02:05 pm at 2:05 pm |
  23. Sarah S.

    Obama has NO support. He has made a fool of himself on the world stage; still believes he can lead by tyrany and not answer to the people. Syria is a huge issue, but not ours! Congress now has to choose between the will of the people (and getting re-elected) or supporting our imperious POTUS in his lost cause.

    September 8, 2013 02:06 pm at 2:06 pm |
  24. dervish

    Nobody believes McDonough at this point, he is a serial liar. This war has no support from anyone except AIPAC. I'm sick of Americans dying for AIPAC.

    September 8, 2013 02:07 pm at 2:07 pm |
  25. Andrew

    Sorry if we don't have that much faith in these idiots common sense anymore.

    September 8, 2013 02:07 pm at 2:07 pm |
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