September 8th, 2013
09:04 AM ET
8 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. Krusatyr

    Benghazi is all the Waterloo the world can stomach from this sidewalk huckster posing as a chess master. Internationally, he is out-led, out-planned and out-spined. Let him stew solo in the disgrace he brought on himself, scourge of the world.

    September 8, 2013 10:34 am at 10:34 am |
  2. Tamarde

    They also said "this is not Vietnam" before Iraq war. They also claimed that they had a lot of support for Iraq war. What a joke

    September 8, 2013 10:34 am at 10:34 am |
  3. Peter Bishop

    The WH will have to begin a massive campaign to get this attack on the positive side with the public and Obama will have to sell it to the nation using all of his politician's tools. The American public is very gullible to Madison Ave. style approaches and propaganda. Otherwise he would not be president right now.

    September 8, 2013 10:35 am at 10:35 am |
  4. nuclear mike

    All I can say is "...Gulf of Tonkin..." and another war...the MIC rules America with Obama supporting his Muslim interests...

    September 8, 2013 10:35 am at 10:35 am |
  5. dgmon

    The Syrian Rebels are the same people we are fighting in Afghanistan... why can't our leaders see that.

    September 8, 2013 10:36 am at 10:36 am |
  6. vad

    They just don't get it! They don't even know who used the chemicals. Our elected representatives are fools!

    September 8, 2013 10:37 am at 10:37 am |
  7. Wade

    The President lies. here is no support for this. Al qeada just took a Syrian town burned the Christian churches and Obama wants to arm the terrorist. Obama is a traitor to America.

    September 8, 2013 10:37 am at 10:37 am |
  8. RobertG

    If this is not Iraq or Afghanistan is it Benghazi or perhaps the Gulf of Tonkin? Will The Esteemed White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough lead an infantry squad, or perhaps a platoon, into combat when 'No Boots On the Ground' promise turns into Wilson's, FDR and Lyndon Johnson's promise to keep us out of war? Persons such as The Esteemed White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough are rather reckless with others peoples lives.

    September 8, 2013 10:37 am at 10:37 am |
  9. Bill

    Obama stated last week that he wants to tip the scales in favor of the opposition, rather than just warn Assad. This isn't about punishment or a warning. This is about US sponsored regime change.

    September 8, 2013 10:38 am at 10:38 am |
  10. Bill

    Obama stated last week that he wants to tip the scales in favor of the opposition, rather than just warn Assad. This isn't about punishment or a warning. This is about US sponsored regime change

    September 8, 2013 10:38 am at 10:38 am |
  11. VK

    That in summary is the problem. Lack of focus, prioritization and rigor in analysis are plaguing governance. Focus on economy,education, health where this fool proof evidence that things are still NOT out of woods. 8.4% unemployment and 17.1% under employment (Gallup poll). College costs are rising and so are health care costs. But Every decade we spend millions in waging attacks and battles on other nations that HAVE no relation to our interests. Our congress and white house MUST fix these problems before solving world's woes.

    September 8, 2013 10:38 am at 10:38 am |
  12. beavus

    What's the problem...we have plenty of checks in the checkbook!

    September 8, 2013 10:39 am at 10:39 am |
  13. Todd

    Liberia and Israel have pledged their support for military action in Syria. They got our backs

    September 8, 2013 10:39 am at 10:39 am |
  14. dawn thornton

    There is nothing good about this...if they want to use the word common sense then th WH needs to use it themselves. if they are that ready to start a war, then let them go stand in front of the first bullets to fly. Although they are saying limited strikes those strikes will kill, those strikes will cause retaliation in some form whether it be against our troops already in the region, isreal, here at home... this is thier mess and we need to keep our noses out of it. If it escalates over there then we are obligated but not now. I hate this man and his cronies...he will start an issue that is going to cost us, the american people, big time...my only hope is that he stands in the front line for the first bullets to fly instead of our troops whi will eventually be in harms way for his war mongering decision.

    September 8, 2013 10:39 am at 10:39 am |
  15. Harsh Realities

    Has anyone figured out who are the good guys in this conflict?

    September 8, 2013 10:39 am at 10:39 am |
  16. JM1

    100,000 people have been killed there by bullets, rockets, bombs, and fire. Why is the U.S. suddenly excited about 1400 deaths? I'm sure the other 100,000 that were killed are equally as dead. Let the U.N. handle it, if Russia blocks action, so be it. It is the "United Nations" after all, if they can not agree on a united decision, then that's it.

    September 8, 2013 10:40 am at 10:40 am |
  17. John C

    This would be a great country again if our government was as concerned about the USA as much as they are about the world. Nothing justifies getting involved in another country's civil war, again. War, or as the liberals call it "armed intervention" seems to be the answer for everything now.

    September 8, 2013 10:40 am at 10:40 am |
  18. Paul

    Just so the WH knows I do not support this in any way stay out.....

    September 8, 2013 10:40 am at 10:40 am |
  19. bill pike

    how many or our soldiers killed in Syria??? had soldiers killed in Libya "but it was a video" because of the election. DO NOT BELIEVE ONE WORD COMING FROM OBAMACARELESS-if we strike we are going to war one way or another and the result??? A UNITED MUSLIM ENEMY–WHICH IS THEIR GOAL.

    September 8, 2013 10:41 am at 10:41 am |
  20. NoMoreWars

    Yes, this is not Iraq, nor Afghanistan war and neither Libya war. This is Syria war. Fourth war within ten years!

    September 8, 2013 10:41 am at 10:41 am |
  21. Anonymous

    "This is not another Iraq or Afghanistan" No, this won't be. Someone needs to point out to them that there are Russian and Chinese missiles aimed at their heads over this proposed war in Syria.

    September 8, 2013 10:41 am at 10:41 am |
  22. carl nelson

    The USA, the UK, and France earned more income from arms sales to developing countries than they gave in aid.

    The arms industry is unlike any other. It operates without regulation. It
    suffers from widespread corruption and bribes. And it makes its profits
    on the back of machines designed to kill and maim human beings.

    So who profits most from this murderous trade? The five permanent members
    of the UN Security Council—the USA, UK, France, Russia, and China.
    Together, they are responsible for eighty eight per cent of reported
    conventional arms exports.

    “We can’t have it both ways. We can’t
    be both the world’s leading champion of peace and the world’s leading
    supplier of arms.” Former US President Jimmy Carter, presidential
    campaign, 1976

    September 8, 2013 10:41 am at 10:41 am |
  23. Rachael

    Are you starting A WAR based on your COMMON SENSE? Are we violating the international laws to punish the government that violated the international laws?

    It's not COMMON sense!

    September 8, 2013 10:42 am at 10:42 am |
  24. gary

    Is USA still a democracy? The vast majority of US citizens are against our involvement in Syria!

    September 8, 2013 10:42 am at 10:42 am |
  25. Mike

    Support? Not from the American people.

    September 8, 2013 10:42 am at 10:42 am |
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