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. Anonymous

    We need to stay out of Syria.. No reason to do anything. We are not the world police. Let the U.N. handle it, that is why they are there. Do we really need a third war front. We already have two illegal wars going. Now are govt. wants to add a third one. Instead of supporting this action of bombing Syria. Need to tell the Fat Cats of Washington no more.

    September 8, 2013 02:46 pm at 2:46 pm |
  2. BD70

    People are jaded over war. No amount of videos are going to melt their hearts and get them to say yes to this war. I am sad men women and children are dying but even if we did do something they would still continue fighting and killing each other.

    September 8, 2013 02:49 pm at 2:49 pm |
  3. joe Mauro

    They are correct,its not like any other war or conflict we are involved in.ITS WORSE!!!!!!!!!!!

    September 8, 2013 02:50 pm at 2:50 pm |
  4. nixux

    Yea, the support certainly isn't from his constituents... Seems like when it comes to the people of the united states it's a resounding no to get involved!

    September 8, 2013 02:57 pm at 2:57 pm |
  5. Marybelle

    Ryan, I like your comment-"perfect polly pet" Funny–Wonder if my pet rock in the attic would be a good companion?

    September 8, 2013 02:58 pm at 2:58 pm |
  6. paul vincent zecchino

    'Common sense' that Assad gassed off the rebels? Really? Is that the phrase of the year or what? "Gun control" was common sense, too, after sandy hook, even though gun control has been proven to be a statist fraud which empowers criminals, makes citizens into victims, and pleases communist regimes.

    These are lawyers talking, here, right? If any lawyer said in court, 'it's common sense the guy's guilty', he'd be disbarred.

    Just like someone else.

    September 8, 2013 02:58 pm at 2:58 pm |
  7. Obama McDonalds

    If Obama goes into this without the support of his people, he will be no better than any of the dictators he's helped to topple. Nobody in their right mind wants to get involved in this conflict. By aiding the rebels, he is aiding Al Queda. The enemy of your enemy is not our friend, in this case. What will come from this is going to be better armed terrorists in future wars. Stop playing chess with people's lives.

    September 8, 2013 03:00 pm at 3:00 pm |
  8. Jillian

    So I'm supposed to believe an administration who has lied to us about so much in recent days. They say that Assad used chemical weapons. They found that out so quickly. But a year later we have no answers on Benghazi. Then there is the IRS and NSA issues. I don't like being lied to. Obama and his cronies have lost the trust of the American people. NO SYRIAN INTERVENTION>

    September 8, 2013 03:00 pm at 3:00 pm |
  9. cristo

    “Common sense,” out of this White House regime, they must be joking. Just how short a collective memory do they think the American citizenry has?

    September 8, 2013 03:01 pm at 3:01 pm |
  10. Flagrante Delicto

    The fact that Obama parades his clones in front of the lame stream media belies the fact that Obama does not have the support for military action in Syria. Denis McDonough is a bold faced liar just like his boss. It matters little what minor players Obama has trumped up in favor of his Big Adventure. Of the twenty nations in the G20, he came away with support from only four (Canada, France, Turkey and Saudi Arabia). Vladimir Putin, the host for the summit, carried all the rest. Only 35% of the American voters polled by Gallop are in favor of military action; which is only slightly greater than the number of representatives favoring a US attack. Obama has a long row to hoe! Of couse we all know that this folly is just a distraction from the numerous failures of the Obama administration for the past 5 years. GOD HELP US ALL!

    September 8, 2013 03:01 pm at 3:01 pm |
  11. Eve

    Not one person I have spoken with is in favor of an altercation with Syria . So whose voices are our senators representing ?

    September 8, 2013 03:02 pm at 3:02 pm |
  12. Tell the Truth

    @Steve – Well said, Sir. More lies from the spinner-in-chief!

    September 8, 2013 03:03 pm at 3:03 pm |
  13. Conrad

    You can google video of the Al-Qaeda rebels firing gas rockets.

    You can't google video of Syrian military doing any such thing, nor would it be "common sense" for them to do so, since they are/were winning conventionally.

    September 8, 2013 03:04 pm at 3:04 pm |
  14. Jay Gatsby

    The White House lies! More than 70% of Americans are opposed to any outside intervention or act of aggression against a sovereign country. An act of war against Syria would be equated to an act of Terrorism justifyed by bogus law.

    September 8, 2013 03:06 pm at 3:06 pm |
  15. CB

    Plenty of support....... from lobbyists........

    September 8, 2013 03:08 pm at 3:08 pm |
  16. Joe Silva

    The White House uses the words "common sense". How darling. First they draw a red line, then the president rattles his saber at the easiest target. Then people ask who actually did what when. So who's the enemy Mr. Obama, with all your alleged education, where did you last see your brain? Bored sabers drawn and no verified enemy. Common sense, oh yes, all those over-educated elites in Washington add up to common sense, they'e drenched in common sense. Do tell us more all you White House elite.

    The most backward nations in the world tell us we're acting crazy to declare a unilateral attack on another government without even knowing the culprit. Yes, we need more common sense, more Iraqs, more Afghanistans, more Hillary's, more Valerie Jarretts. That'll revolutionize implementation of common sense. For such educated people, looking at a map, and thinking we will occupy them for their own safety afterwards. We were to be out by Christmas whatever that was, and be hailed heroes by those underneath our boots on the ground. Oh yes, this is common sense, talking policy before and after boots on the ground.

    September 8, 2013 03:08 pm at 3:08 pm |
  17. RUDY HAUGENEDER -- CANADA

    "Certainly, bombing Assad is not going to lead to peace in the Middle East." says a professor who taught at Yale Law School, and Columbia Law School, and was President of the National Lawyers Guild.
    Michael Ratner, President Emeritus of the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) in New York and Chair of the European Center for Constitutional and Human Rights in Berlin, says "It's going to lead to consequences that are probably unknowable, as they are in every war–the Iraq War, of course, being the last one in which, of course, it was knowable that a lot of people were going to be killed.
    "But the destruction that the U.S. has wrought in Iraq, not just in terms of people but in the future that country, is horrendous, and it was done on false pretenses," he adds. "And that is what we should think about before any country decides that it should intervene in Syria."

    September 8, 2013 03:08 pm at 3:08 pm |
  18. Chris

    They 'think' the Syrian government is responsible because it's logical, common sense? Sure hope our enemies don't use that same reasoning when they've been attacked in the middle of the night!

    September 8, 2013 03:08 pm at 3:08 pm |
  19. Jim37015

    Well then show this support.....Lets see that list of secret names of countries.. Or is it they know these Muslim extremist will start suicide bombing their front doors.

    There's just a few piddly small countries that want this. This guys portfolio probably wants it and supports it. He's probably got kids in college that won't be fighting that needs a new Mustang or Hummer.

    September 8, 2013 03:09 pm at 3:09 pm |
  20. NATE

    Might be tempted to believe him IF THERE WAS 1 OUNCE OF COMMON SENSE IN DC.

    September 8, 2013 03:11 pm at 3:11 pm |
  21. Sam

    Support? What support? If my congressperson approves this war he or she will never serve again. We "the people" will make sure of that.

    September 8, 2013 03:11 pm at 3:11 pm |
  22. Jaimie

    The decision makers on this matter do not care because it will NOT be their boots on the ground. Every lawmaker who votes to bomb Syria should be voted out of office when the time comes. USA STAY OUT OF SYRIA PERIOD.

    September 8, 2013 03:11 pm at 3:11 pm |
  23. Michael Bond

    Since when did we start using "common sense" as a measure of justification for starting a war? Common sense would tell you that the Commander in Chief delivered for public examination a FORGED BIRTH CERTIFICATE. Commun sense would tell you that there are some serious issues with Obama's ATTENDANCE AT COLUMBIA UNIVERSITY. Common sense would tell you that Obama is going to start this war because he is being told to by the same people that arranged his election.

    September 8, 2013 03:12 pm at 3:12 pm |
  24. nickshaw1

    "it’s “common sense” that the Syrian regime carried out the deadly chemical weapons attack "?
    Really?
    Could there also be common sense that jihadists carried out the attack?
    They do do these kinds of things, do they not?
    This is apart from the fact that "common sense" is not one of the things Skeeter's administration is known for. If they had any we wouldn't have lost an ambassador and 3 good men in Benghazi.
    Just sayin'.

    September 8, 2013 03:13 pm at 3:13 pm |
  25. Jeremy

    True this is not Iraq or Afghanistan, it's worse!

    September 8, 2013 03:14 pm at 3:14 pm |
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