September 8th, 2013
09:04 AM ET
12 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. Luke5323

    Three of Boston bombing suspect Dzhokhar Tsarnaev's friends were arrested four months ago.
    Two of them are in the country illegally.
    Oppose amnesty now. Google this: NUMBERSUSA .
    Once you are registered (join us), go to the "action board" to send free faxes to your state representative.
    They are all typed up and ready to go, you just need to click your mouse to send.

    September 8, 2013 11:09 am at 11:09 am |
  2. howard

    Our elected leaders no longer represent the wishes or needs of the American people. If we keep our current foreign policies, at some point we are going to get kicked big time.

    September 8, 2013 11:09 am at 11:09 am |
  3. Jorge

    Attacking a sovereign country demands a broader explanation beyond what has been provided. There has to be more to this story, and after all, the U.S. has not been attacked by Syria. This is an internal conflict in Syria. What will "limited and effective targeting" accomplish? Stepping into that mess will not solve anything, but rather cause more bloodshed.

    September 8, 2013 11:10 am at 11:10 am |
  4. park more

    Not changing the regime? Ok, how many people will die with your planned limited attacks? 1000?10,000? more? You will destroy the infrastructure of the country and that will cause the death of 1000000 people and more. Who are good and who are bad?

    September 8, 2013 11:10 am at 11:10 am |
  5. US Grant

    "Syria Issue For Dummies" Google a pic of the Free Syrian Army rebels. Compare those towel wrapped faces to pics we have seen in Iraq, Afghanistan. Remember back during the Russian Afghan war, when we supported that free army of rebels and Google their pictures. Now class, ask yourselves, should we support any of those people A.) or some of them B.) or C.) None of them, take a moment to think about your answer. Unfortunately many of our US leaders are learning challenged so we the people should call our leaders and help them with this very hard quiz, they are after all, learning challenged and in need of our help. Lets all pitch in and help those sweet Men and Women of our Government make this very hard decision.

    September 8, 2013 11:10 am at 11:10 am |
  6. ProfessorS

    “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

    WOW. So we are going to attack Asad and help Al-Qaeda without proof beyond reasonable doubt that he is behind it? This is crazy! And to the victor go the spoils. If we help Al Qaeda win we help them aquire chemical weapons. Assad may be a devil, bit the saying is "Better the devil you know..."

    September 8, 2013 11:11 am at 11:11 am |
  7. rdg18

    'Common sense' blames obama

    September 8, 2013 11:11 am at 11:11 am |
  8. carlin123

    The majority of the countries around the world are against it and so are the majority of the American people. Common sense is to NOT attack.

    September 8, 2013 11:12 am at 11:12 am |
  9. SciGuy

    Common sense? No. We don't send in missiles based on common sense. We demand cold, hard irrefutable evidence. Even then we have no business there.

    September 8, 2013 11:12 am at 11:12 am |
  10. Millerbarber

    No this is not Iraq and Afghanistan it absolutely makes no sense!

    People who are dead are just as dead no matter how they died. So we are going to bomb a country because they killed 1400+ with Sarin Gas as opposed to bullets.

    If we actually had a foreign policy we would not be in this situation

    September 8, 2013 11:12 am at 11:12 am |
  11. Christopher Columbus

    Hidden in this post there lies a secret code–hurry up and read it before it gets deleted.

    September 8, 2013 11:12 am at 11:12 am |
  12. Joe Texan

    How many posters here are working for the Iranian or Syrian government? All our allies in the region, Saudi Arabia, Israel, Jordan, and Turkey, want us to hit Asaad with missles. Our enemies, Syria, Iran, and Russia, don't want us to bound him with missles. It seems that our enemies are winning the public opinion battle in America. What's the problem? The Saudis already said they would pay the full cost for the missles. Having the Saudis send 400 or 500 million dollars to Boeing corporation for cruise missles sounds good to me. If you don't want to kill innocent people, we could target the Syrian desert. An American show of force is necessary, but we could do that by targetting the Canadian Rockies or the North Pole. Launch the missles already and send the Saudis the bill.

    September 8, 2013 11:13 am at 11:13 am |
  13. iibw

    "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."

    I've read that non-Syrian rebels captured several of these rockets and accidentally gassed themselves, but quickly blamed Assad. If true, Assad's regime had less involvement than the U.S. is accusing them of. If our intelligence is basing their decisions according to "common sense," we will be making the biggest blunder in world history by attacking Syria.

    September 8, 2013 11:14 am at 11:14 am |
  14. No Sense at WH

    The administration cites Common Sense as a sufficient reason for going to war. When has this sneaky, dishonest group shown common senst about much of anything.

    September 8, 2013 11:14 am at 11:14 am |
  15. Jamie

    SUPPORT?! From who? Your US Citizens does not support military actions. The international community DOES NOT SUPPORT IT. The US is BEGGING for support. You can spin it saying they're rallying for support. To me, the US represented by Obama is making this into an embarrassment politically. Put it to a vote in congress and LISTEN TO YOUR PEOPLE. Nice propaganda video of the chemical deaths in the other article. Death is death. Its horrific but its no different then the 100,000+ dead bodies from conventional warfare which I don't recall seeing CNN splash on the frontpage.

    September 8, 2013 11:15 am at 11:15 am |
  16. Maxwell

    Actually, “common sense” say's the Rebels carried-out the sarin gas attack to draw the West into attacking Assad on their behalf, it makes no sense for Assad to use chemical weapons while the UN is right there investigating. So the real message being sent out may be... any terrorist can easily manipulate the US into attacking their foes.

    September 8, 2013 11:15 am at 11:15 am |
  17. LessThanZero

    If this goes wrong, don't think for a second that you will draft my son.

    September 8, 2013 11:15 am at 11:15 am |
  18. Mitchie124

    This liar, Obama, and the rest of his fellow traveler cronies need to be removed from office immediately!

    September 8, 2013 11:15 am at 11:15 am |
  19. calripson

    Latest Stratfor headline: Syrian forces may have launched chemical attack without Assad's Knowledge....drum roll please. As I have maintained from day 1, either Israeli or Saudi intelligence has bribed a Syrian officer with operationla control of chemical weapons to launch a small scale attack on thier orders. That officer was probably promised a life of ease under a new identiy in Dubia (he very well may now be at the bottom of the ocean La Cosa Nostra style). What is clear is this is a ridiculously transparent false flag.The American people can't possible be that stupid/apathetic to put up with this nonsense. No more blood and dollars for lies. Contact your senators/congressional reps today and remember how they vote. They have got the money and media but we have the overwhelmign numbers.

    September 8, 2013 11:15 am at 11:15 am |
  20. calripson

    Latest Stratfor headline: Syrian forces may have launched chemical attack without Assad's Knowledge....drum roll please. As I have maintained from day 1, either Israeli or Saudi intelligence has bribed a Syrian officer with operationla control of chemical weapons to launch a small scale attack on thier orders. That officer was probably promised a life of ease under a new identiy in Dubia (he very well may now be at the bottom of the ocean La Cosa Nostra style). What is clear is this is a ridiculously transparent false flag.The American people can't possible be that stupid/apathetic to put up with this nonsense. No more blood and dollars for lies. Contact your senators/congressional reps today and remember how they vote. They have got the money and media but we have the overwhelmign numbers

    September 8, 2013 11:16 am at 11:16 am |
  21. Conservatives Suck!

    Ha! all except the chemical are sodium fluoride and potassium fluoride. The same cr ap they forcibly put into toothpaste and water to stop cavities. The same stuff that is a byproduct of making nuclear bombs and you have no say in it. So, i ask Are those videos real, or all made up? Given how the CIA and NSA manipulate us all, I say its is all a pack of lies! No MORE WARS!

    September 8, 2013 11:16 am at 11:16 am |
  22. Darlene Buckingham

    If people are paying attention here fluoride is a component of sarin gas – we are being poisoned by the corrupt rulers of this planet who control people through poisoning, lies and violence. Bombing people because of the use of chemical weapons is just supporting the corrupt system we are living in. It is time -more than time – to go to a higher level of living where we understand ALL live is sacred and we are here to take care of life: not to control it. Look at the horrors when people love money and power. Very sad. Imagine the world we could create if we worked with life and created a heaven on Earth: it is within our grasp. We have to face the ugly truth of those that rule and those that have given away their responsibility for creation. We are seeing the blackest of the black of our souls. Let's stop this destructive behaviour, start working together, clean up our planet and create a beautiful world to live and grow!

    September 8, 2013 11:17 am at 11:17 am |
  23. Smackme420

    Are you kidding me? Seriously people, we have to go thru this again? It's NOT about Syria, children, sarin gas or even "saving face" as this seems to be all that's left. It's about a pipeline- PERIOD. Our military has been used over and over again for THEIR gain while we loose our children, Fathers, Mothers, friends and family...and for what? THINK people.

    September 8, 2013 11:17 am at 11:17 am |
  24. Barry bin Inhalin

    Not even a nice try. NO.

    September 8, 2013 11:18 am at 11:18 am |
  25. Ed

    Imagine yourself a rebel commander. Common sense would be gas civilians and then wait for the US to do your dirty work. After all you already have Obama making a "red line" promising to do so. That is common sense to me.

    September 8, 2013 11:18 am at 11:18 am |
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