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. Bill

    "Plenty of support"?!?

    FROM WHOM?!?

    Fairy tale characters don't count.

    September 8, 2013 03:14 pm at 3:14 pm |
  2. Thomas

    If it was Iran instead of Syria , it would be a done deal .

    September 8, 2013 03:16 pm at 3:16 pm |
  3. bdby

    "'We have plenty of support,' WH says"

    These people are really delusional. What more can I say??

    September 8, 2013 03:17 pm at 3:17 pm |
  4. jlrlee

    Did anyone ever accuse Obama of having common sense? I think not.

    September 8, 2013 03:17 pm at 3:17 pm |
  5. Maria

    I view the current crisis as psychological warfare on the part of the US government towards Assad's regime. If we do nothing about the chemical weapons that allegedly are being used by Assad, then we give the green light to any countries within the Middle East to continue their use and to Iran's current manufacturing of nuclear weapons. To Muslims, the US will appear as cowards, afraid to stand up to not only Syria, but the entire region. Their cry will be... Allah achieves victory over the Great Satan.
    On the other hand, If we do indeed go ahead with a limited strike, it will have little, if any, effect on removing said chemical weapons. It will, however, ignite more anti-American sentiment. There's a very good possibility that some missiles may strike the civilian population causing the kind of collateral damage both Assad and the insurgents would like to see. Their way of striking back at the US would be the use of such propaganda. And with the availability of social media technology, anything can go viral in a matter of minutes.
    President Obama and his administration need to see the quagmire here and act accordingly.

    September 8, 2013 03:18 pm at 3:18 pm |
  6. Josh

    It's too late to respond to the attacks in Syria. If you wanted to attack, the decision should have been made hours after knowing the chemical attack occurred. If we attack now, we have to attack with a nuclear bomb like we did in WWII. Just like Japan, Syria will become our ally. This is just my opinion, of course.

    September 8, 2013 03:20 pm at 3:20 pm |
  7. Sean

    When you hear the words "common sense" from the White House, what follows is anything but.

    September 8, 2013 03:21 pm at 3:21 pm |
  8. abmri60

    Iran supports and supplies terrorist groups like Hamas and the Muslim Brotherhood.

    September 8, 2013 03:21 pm at 3:21 pm |
  9. Red47

    In light of the entire presidency, thus far, I am not confident that the White House is competent to define "common sense". It is also demeaning that they would think we need to go to war absent proof, in the name of common sense. Icky people are manipulating the public.

    September 8, 2013 03:24 pm at 3:24 pm |
  10. Tarheel

    A Serian rebel admitted that they were the ones that released the gas. Furthermore they raided a weapons depot last summer that had the gas although the administration tells us it was secure. Why are we getting in bed with these rebels when they represent the Islamic extreme factions. Of course John Kerry will tell us that they are the moderates. They are the same as the Muslim brotherhood that Egypt is now trying to get rid of. This administration continues to pick the wrong side to be on. This is a UN problem, we have paid our dues, let them deal with it.

    September 8, 2013 03:25 pm at 3:25 pm |
  11. Charles

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

    Common sense is something which has not been seen in Washington DC for a long time. I doubt if McDonough would reconize common sense if it jump from the bushes and bit him on the rump.

    September 8, 2013 03:26 pm at 3:26 pm |
  12. Sam

    “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.”

    So...you admit you DON'T have irrefutable evidence but you're going to do this anyway. OK, thank for clarifying your position....that will make it much easier to convict you of illegal activity when the time comes.

    September 8, 2013 03:28 pm at 3:28 pm |
  13. Hugh Beaumont

    This is exactly wrong. Common sense tells us that this is the last thing in the world Assad would do. If he wanted to use chemical weapons, and defy every country on earth, why didn't he use 100 times as much? Better yet, 1,000 times as much? You play guessing games? OK. Here's my guess. The Mossad was behind it. Second guess – CIA.

    September 8, 2013 03:28 pm at 3:28 pm |
  14. Anonymous

    No they don't! It's a dumb idea to strike Syria a year after Assad started killing his own citizens. Obama is on his own on this one.

    September 8, 2013 03:30 pm at 3:30 pm |
  15. GRIZZ MANN

    The White House operates on hope. I hope the story is not like the Benghazi video. I hope that Syria used WMD on her own people. I hope the Russians are lying about the rebels using the WMD. I hope people forget about high gas prices and taxes to come. Yeah a lot of hope there.

    September 8, 2013 03:34 pm at 3:34 pm |
  16. MikeinNM

    "Pressed on whether there are any countries willing to provide military equipment or assistance, McDonough continued to point to statements of moral support." Reminds me of The Monty Python's "Life of Brian," set at the time of Christ. Their ragtag group, something like the "Liberation Front of Judea," wants to oppose the occupying Romans. While their fellow member, Brian, is literally getting crucified, they're sitting around a table wondering what they should do to thwart the Romans. As Syrians get gassed, countries' leaders are passing the back on to the US, and, save for Obama and "the willing," most Americans are not.

    September 8, 2013 03:37 pm at 3:37 pm |
  17. mirageseekr

    Our government has proven they have no common sense themselves, and as their support does not come from the American people we should recall them all and start impeachment for the head war monger now before they drag us into this.

    September 8, 2013 03:37 pm at 3:37 pm |
  18. Jimh77

    NO MORE WAR OBAMA! Stay out of Syria all together and let them figure it out on their own. They are doing just fine.

    September 8, 2013 03:38 pm at 3:38 pm |
  19. Just (no hyphen) American

    I just re-read my post and discovered some mistakes in spelling and grammar. I should have checked it over before sending it. My apologies!
    See Mr. President, it's not that hard to apologize for putting words out there before checking them. We are all human!
    P.S.
    Could someone muzzle Kerry? Or at least give him something honest to say!
    Thanks,
    Just (no hyphen) American

    September 8, 2013 03:38 pm at 3:38 pm |
  20. Sam

    Stay alert people, if this push to strike falls short, be looking for an "attack" on US interests here at home or abroad as a justification to strike. If that happens we should be VERY suspicious. Remember, Operation Northwoods was a real plan, not just an accusation.

    September 8, 2013 03:39 pm at 3:39 pm |
  21. No1uKnow

    Common-sense says stop spending, but The White House doesn't seem to understand THAT.

    September 8, 2013 03:39 pm at 3:39 pm |
  22. NYNJCT

    "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,” Denis McDonough said. THEY SOUND LIKE ENJOYING WAR GAME with ignoring of worst
    American economic situations.

    September 8, 2013 03:42 pm at 3:42 pm |
  23. Heat Miser

    Actually, chemical weapons expert Danny Kay said due to the agents needed to successfully launch that large Sarin gas attack and the method, the rebels couldnt have done it. That along with all the evidence of where the shells came from, where they hit, the intercepts....prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the Assad regime launched the chemical attack. Common sense tells you that. For the ninety nine percent of us with common sense, the debate is how we should or should not respond to it. Quit trying to create red herring as to who launched it. Either you are a liar trying to mislead the ignorant and stupid, or you are the ignorant and stupid...not quite sure.

    September 8, 2013 03:44 pm at 3:44 pm |
  24. Richard

    So far there seems to be no proof that the Assad regime set off this gas attack. (Or even that rogue elements within it did so.) Allegedly the missiles recovered from the attack were home made, which implies the rebels did it, perhaps to draw the US into the conflict. It doesn't make much sense that Assad would risk a US reaction, But America is the place where 3 months ago there was panic in the press because North Korea had a dinky missile. We need to stop and think before reacting.

    September 8, 2013 03:47 pm at 3:47 pm |
  25. Edward

    Bull!
    War is War!
    Iraq is a mess, so is Afganistan. Now Syria?
    Get a life Obama.
    Find another way to appease those that hate you.
    We have problems here you can't fix, and who appointed you ruler of the World anyway?
    By the way, you have no support, dude. Certainly not from me anymore.

    September 8, 2013 03:49 pm at 3:49 pm |
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