September 8th, 2013
09:04 AM ET
11 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. carlb

    if america was run by common sense. we would have no debt and no government employee unions or welfare. the minute a avowed racist and drunk signed those two bills america turned into what we see today. a country spiraling down to what i read in in atlas shrugged and the hunger games. i would not trust this bunch from the chicago daley machine with a paper match book!

    September 8, 2013 05:52 pm at 5:52 pm |
  2. seaden

    "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."

    The same White House common sense that told us for weeks that the attack on our Libyan consulate and murder of our ambassador and three other Americans was because of a Youtube video. The same incompetent liars are once more on display.

    By the way, it's been almost a year since 4 Americans were murdered in Libya and Barack Hussein Obama promised they'd be brought to justice. Somehow they people responsible can be found and interviewed by the media, but this White House can't seem to locate them!

    September 8, 2013 05:58 pm at 5:58 pm |
  3. Hmm

    "Common sense" says a chief executive doesn't play a game of "chicken" when it lead to involvement in another war.

    September 8, 2013 06:01 pm at 6:01 pm |
  4. Hmm

    "Common sense" says don't put one's foot in one's mouth trying to regain some degree of credibility.

    September 8, 2013 06:03 pm at 6:03 pm |
  5. Hmm

    Will "common sense" prevail in the U.S. plan?

    September 8, 2013 06:08 pm at 6:08 pm |
  6. Comt

    Common sense: WH is doing more of same... Lying to us.

    September 8, 2013 06:17 pm at 6:17 pm |
  7. thetreker

    What does the white house know about common sense? Maybe they should read Common Sense.

    September 8, 2013 06:26 pm at 6:26 pm |
  8. Comt

    Folks, Obama does not care about the US. All his decisions lend evidence to this. He will do what ever he wants, regardless of what is right, or intelligently beneficial for the US. US citizens do not weigh into his decisions nearly as much as his own selfishness, his racist views, hidden agendas, and those that can help him further these. Sorry folks. Obama plays you.

    September 8, 2013 06:27 pm at 6:27 pm |
  9. Arthur

    Overwhelming evidence, logic and reason tells us that the American backed “rebels” carried out the chemical attack. Those who are responsible for arming, supplying, training, paying, and otherwise supporting the terrorists ( aka “rebels”) in Syria are responsible for the chemical attack. The rebels have a very bad track record so far. They have been targeting Christians and routinely committing atrocities including beheading of women and even babies who happen to have a different religion than the zealots.

    September 8, 2013 06:28 pm at 6:28 pm |
  10. Kurt Zimmerman

    Common sense should tell us Oboma is a junk dealer. Just like when then rebels used the old junk serin gas form the Sadam Husain junk pile of outdated dated nerve gas that Obama supplied them with. Isn't it funny how this clown can't help dieing Amerians defending American soil, calling it the fault of a fictitious Vedio, but can go to WAR over the lost of 1400 Muslims.

    September 8, 2013 06:34 pm at 6:34 pm |
  11. poorhardworker

    When has this administration shown ONE OUNCE OF COMMON SENSE??? They have lied to We The People at EVERY TURN!!! STAY OUT OF SYRIA!!! That is what We the People WANT!!! And, please, Obama...stop "marketing/campaigning" for war!!! The only thing you have to do which is honorable...is resign!!! You, you slimy Chicago (DIRTY!) Community Organizer, are in WAY OVER YOUR HEAD!!! "You don't have the sense you was born with"...a famous quote from a children's book...that I will not name...because then I would be labeled "racist" ( do you ever get tired playing that card?)...even though those words were spoken my his momma!

    September 8, 2013 06:36 pm at 6:36 pm |
  12. redhotrash

    bo lives in an echo chamber of people who fan his hubris...his arrogance is nauseating and yet he is clueless because his cronies reinforce his own deluded self love

    September 8, 2013 07:01 pm at 7:01 pm |
  13. Athur

    “Now do we have irrefutable, beyond reasonable doubt evidence? This is not a court of law, and intelligence does not work that way,” Of course the don't have irrefutable evidence, the administration forced out the UN investigators before we could have any. The only people we KNOW used chemical WMD in Syria were rebel forces Per the UN in May. They have them they've used them and it makes the most sense that they used them again only three days after UN inspectors hit the ground in Syria. Assad welcomed the inspectors. He would AVOID creating easilly confirmable evidence of a chem attack while they were there. Which evidence wouldn't have fit with the Obamessiah's legacy leaving doctrine of handing the middle east over to their worst religious extremists.

    September 8, 2013 07:43 pm at 7:43 pm |
  14. Athur

    “Now do we have irrefutable, beyond reasonable doubt evidence? This is not a court of law, and intelligence does not work that way,” HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAA!!!! Nice if they'd let the UN inspectors do their job then they WOULD have vidence...that Jabhat Al Nusra had done it. But that doesn't fit with the golden boys brilliant foreign policy which includes the amazing successes in egypt and libya now does it.

    September 8, 2013 07:45 pm at 7:45 pm |
  15. Athur

    “Now do we have irrefutable, beyond reasonable doubt evidence? This is not a court of law, and intelligence does not work that way,” HAHAHAHAHAHAHA!! "Do you think having information means we're informed? Information doesn't work that way," Riiiiiight.

    September 8, 2013 07:47 pm at 7:47 pm |
  16. bergus

    only because we haven't stuck our hands in it and screwed it all up... YET!

    September 8, 2013 08:17 pm at 8:17 pm |
  17. Not really alone

    Gee McDonough, thanks for the geography lesson. We didn't realize Syria was a separate country from Afghanistan and Iraq. You know we are all just stupid Americans waiting for you to tell us what to think.

    Here is a question for you . . . If Assad's attack provoked a "limited" military strike then what will a repeat attack by Assad provoke? And if Assad attempts to defend his sovereignty and attacks a US ship which he would have every right to do, then what response is next? What about Russia? What if they decide they want to defend their economic and military interests in Syria?

    Is it just me or does anyone else get the feeling that from the "red line" speech to the "limited strikes" no one is really thinking this through? Like, hey let's try this and see what happens.

    Obama was a huge mistake. HUGE!

    September 8, 2013 09:28 pm at 9:28 pm |
  18. Sal

    As we all weigh in on what the President should or should not do when it comes to Syria, let us all remember those innocent women and children being slaughtered by a ruthless regime using the most horrific tactics and means including chemical weapons.
    The sad thing in all of this is watching Russia and China in General and the Syrian regime in particular; continue to deny that they had anything to do with this.
    We can chose to sit idly by and do nothing, or stand up as we have always done for what’s right and humane.
    Standing up for what’s right is what our country is all about. It is who we are and what we stand for, not only when it comes to our freedom and safety, but also the freedom and safety of others.
    Some are questioning the motives of the president and are concerned about getting involved in another conflict or war. Others are worried that Syria or its allies will retaliate. These are all legitimate concerns and I have the same reservations but in the end, we must all remember one thing. Syria’s regime, Iran and Hezbollah have two common enemies, guess who?? Israel and the United States and if we think for a minute that not interfering in Syria now will keep us or our allies in the region safe, guess again….
    The stronger the Assad regime gets, the stronger Hezbollah becomes which will threaten the stability of that region more than it is today. If we don’t do anything about the use of chemical weapons today, we will be faced with a nuclear armed Iran tomorrow. What will we say then? Who will we blame?
    Sending a strong message now is the right thing to do. Force is the only language Assad’s regime understands. We have been pushing for a political solution for two years with no end in sight. The longer the Assad regime stays in power and the longer we hesitate to strike, the ruthless and more dangerous they become.

    September 8, 2013 09:40 pm at 9:40 pm |
  19. Reando Phillips

    The longer the President waits on potential allies to support him the more he will actually loose and none of those other stupid countries even care because it's not their children that's being attacked. The United Nations have become listless,unresponsive,and powerless;also Russia and China rules it with their amazing and all power veto obstructions. The reason most people don't want to send troops into Syria is because they have become cowards and afraid of war because of the mess that went on in Iraq,but I must say this,that if all those other countries agreed on a chemical weapons ban,then they surely must have a way to enforce it other than those freakin sanctions. In closing I want people to understand that I too am against any sort of war but I just don't believe that sending food rations,weapons,strong statements or waiting four months for the United Nations will help those poor sick and people in Syria.

    September 8, 2013 09:47 pm at 9:47 pm |
  20. jim

    Common Sense? Thomas Paine's? How about Jim's common sense...."read your labels" ...How much of what "you" buy reads "made in China" (i.e. communist run country, along with Russia, supplying chemical weapons to Syria). Wash your hands – and not your brains. Common sense lacks people.

    So, common sense might be "even in our simple day-to-day living as consumers we become responsible...and eventually, accountable."

    September 8, 2013 09:59 pm at 9:59 pm |
  21. not any one

    I think as american we have a lot of local problems need to be address before going to help "other" even if the Saudi will be charge for this strick , still we have 30 million kids hungry we have 40 millions without health insurance , and finally why we have to do the drity job for Saudi let them go and keep thier money for themselves and we keep our men and women safe

    September 8, 2013 11:50 pm at 11:50 pm |
  22. John Tighe

    Wow, so they have a lot of support from countries. I guess it doesn't bother them that their own country, the United States, doesn't support them.

    September 9, 2013 07:14 am at 7:14 am |
  23. americansforjustice

    Excuse me, every time the U.S. has ever had a problem the U.N. has always backed you up! NOT THIS TIME, that should tell you something right there! Russia already has Battleships in place, and China is on the move. What you WANT WWIII? Think about it! The AMERICAN PEOPLE who you WORK FOR Does Not Want the STRIKE!

    September 9, 2013 07:50 am at 7:50 am |
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