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. Doug L

    It may not be Iraq or Afghanistan. But whatever it is, it can turn out just as badly. The WH says it has plenty of support; I am concerned that it does not have plenty of common sense.

    September 8, 2013 02:12 pm at 2:12 pm |
  2. barry392003@yahoo.ca

    To those of you bashing Barak Obama I say this: If the right had gotten its way and elected Mitt, we would have already struck Syria. And at this point we would either already have, or would be looking at "boots on the ground". The right would be in full support because they know it would be fueling profits from the war industry. It would be coming out of the taxpayer pockets and going into the war industries pockets. Corporations like Haliburton thrive off war support and industry.

    September 8, 2013 02:14 pm at 2:14 pm |
  3. gzeena

    Obama and staff are lying to the people. There is no convincing proof that Assad attacked his own people with chemical weapons. It's PROPAGANDA people.

    The crimes you don't hear about are perpetrated on innocent Syrians by rebel extremists. That's our state controlled media for you.

    September 8, 2013 02:16 pm at 2:16 pm |
  4. BTLProd

    We have plenty of support? France bailed last night, that leaves us with a coalition of just us.

    September 8, 2013 02:16 pm at 2:16 pm |
  5. Michael Benjamin

    There are no good choices in Syria, there are no good outcomes in Syria. Why not lob a few bombs and see what falls out?

    September 8, 2013 02:18 pm at 2:18 pm |
  6. Walter

    It's laughable that this administration says what it is and what it isn't, before "its" even happened yet.

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

    Pres. Obama's latest "yes" man must be living on the same planet as he is! You're happy with the support you have? Well, then you need to go live with THOSE people, 'cause you certainly do not have the support of the people that you govern and have lied to over and over and over again.

    September 8, 2013 02:27 pm at 2:27 pm |
  8. Zed

    through the bums out!! or if you like: it is time for term limits and a parliamentary system of government allowing more than the two "opposing" political parties to participate.

    September 8, 2013 02:28 pm at 2:28 pm |
  9. ggggg

    NO to this war! The American people are tired of fighting pointless wars for the corporatist!

    September 8, 2013 02:30 pm at 2:30 pm |
  10. marianne

    So, Obama is outraged that so many children died!! What about the children of partial-birth abortions who die each day. He voted in favor of that bill when he was in congress. This is nothing but a complete farce, and there is no proof that the MB didn't use the chemical weapons. This man is out to destroy this country.

    September 8, 2013 02:33 pm at 2:33 pm |
  11. Veritas

    There was similar resistance to getting involved in WW2 to stop Hitler back in the 40's

    September 8, 2013 02:36 pm at 2:36 pm |
  12. Karen McCormick

    Since we don't have absolute proof who actually fired chemical weapons on the Syrian people, coupled with Turkey's arrest of rebels attempting to smuggle sarin gas into the country in March, the rebels wanting the US to fund their battles and the Obama administration's 'line in the sand', it would be insane to get drawn into further escalation of this conflict. It's time to let the UN do it's job and the US should focus on our own country's needs.

    September 8, 2013 02:36 pm at 2:36 pm |
  13. cliffintex

    Common sense 'says'...no proof – yet Obama wants to send in missiles. His support is lip service for political and diplomatic response – not military. Only France has endorsed a military response...that ought to say something.

    September 8, 2013 02:36 pm at 2:36 pm |
  14. Sam

    Count one more!! I just heard St. Mary's 8th grade soccer team gave their approval.

    September 8, 2013 02:37 pm at 2:37 pm |
  15. mc

    Then what is it? Sounds like another attempt to overthrow another government. And I hope it's not another Afghanistan, we're not getting anything accomplished over there. Why don't you quit lying to the American people. You have no support for what you want to do, you have no idea where to drop bombs or what to hit, you have no idea who the rebels are or if they'll turn around later on as a terrorist group against us. All you want to do is get the media attention of your mess over here in America.

    September 8, 2013 02:38 pm at 2:38 pm |
  16. Wolfy Wolf

    Of course they have "Plenty of support" as the frontpage headline read... from Al Queda and other Muslim entities but not from the American people, the British People etc... What a joke this administration has become...

    September 8, 2013 02:39 pm at 2:39 pm |
  17. brunojo

    Great, use bombs in a surgical strike, to destroy chemical weapons in residential areas. Once all that chemical has been displaced in the air after the explosion and civilians die from even greater exposure, then what? Mission accomplished?

    September 8, 2013 02:39 pm at 2:39 pm |
  18. DSM

    Just not the support of the American People.

    September 8, 2013 02:40 pm at 2:40 pm |
  19. bigjulie

    Common sense, eh? How about the "common sense" that dictates following the Constitution of the United States? How about the "common sense" that this president is almost completely ignorant of its provisions, despite carrying the University of Chicago title of "Constitutional Law Expert"? How about the "common sense" that this president is successfully bringing the "late, great United States" to its knees militarily and diplomatically.

    The kindest thing Barack Obama can do right now is resign! That's "common sense" too, but we all know he won't. He is not finished turning America into a 3rd world backwater, and besides...he LOVES those multi-million dollar vacations at our expense.

    What an absolute fraud this guy is!

    September 8, 2013 02:41 pm at 2:41 pm |
  20. Jonus Grumby

    'We have plenty of support,' WH says

    True. I understand Haiti is committing their entire military resources to Obama's alliance.

    September 8, 2013 02:41 pm at 2:41 pm |
  21. kg9aq

    This White House and common sense have nothing in common so how can they detect the absence of something they have never experienced themselves?

    September 8, 2013 02:42 pm at 2:42 pm |
  22. Karen McCormick

    Americans don't want an an attack on Syria. We don't want a confrontation with Russia, China or Iran. What Americans want is for our government to focus on taking care of things here at home and stop playing world police. Let the UN handle it, that's their job. In fact, not only do the American people not want an attack on Syria, neither does the rest of the world. That in itself out to be a clue for the US to stay out of it. Time to replace the 'cowboy' mentality with diplomacy and common sense.

    September 8, 2013 02:43 pm at 2:43 pm |
  23. HJC

    Come on, even Kerry, who is lying through his nose , was man enough to say boots on the ground will be needed if the situation in Syria deteriorates.

    Since it can only deteriorate, how can one say this is not similar to the drawn out conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan?

    Our elected officials need to stop lying and face up: the American people want no part of Syria at this point.

    September 8, 2013 02:44 pm at 2:44 pm |
  24. chuckles8888

    This only makes sense to people that think like Christians. We don't understand the Muslim mind that believes if they strap a bomb on their 5 year old and make him walk into a crowd he will instantly be in paradise. We don't understand the desire for death. We don't worship Satan. It makes perfect sense to a Muslim to use America to get what you want then kill us.

    September 8, 2013 02:44 pm at 2:44 pm |
  25. JeffG

    No to war... I have told all my politicians, now the question is will they listen. If Congress says no will Obama still act? This would be an impeachable act and he should be impeached. Obama has done nothing but lead the US to cause chaos and death everywhere we have touched in the Middle East since he has been President, and he cannot "Blame Bush".

    September 8, 2013 02:45 pm at 2:45 pm |
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