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. rs

    Sir, it doesn't matter if this IS Iraq OR Afghanistan again. It is in the Middle East, a cesspool of civil wars in the waiting. A place where even the best diplomats, and the best intentions fail. A place where nations are you allies and your enemies in the space of a decade.

    The American population IS NOT a collection of Middle East scholars, yet they seem to intuitively know there are no winners here, and bombs won't necessarily help a population facing the wrath of yet another apparently insane dictator. If they could be convinced on those points, the support would be there.

    Americans want justice for the downtrodden, but they don't feel that is for now and always America's job.

    Work internationally, work through the UN and NATO. Work diplomatically.

    As for what Republicans are saying, well, this is yet again another clear case of NOT supporting what the President calls for simply because the President called for it. The GOP practically invented the "go it alone" military strategy, and we certainly saw it played out by Mr. Reagan, and Bush jr. For the GOP now (who have called for wars, strikes, military actions of all sorts from N.Korea to Libya) to show "cold feet" at the opportunity of another military adventure is just like their craven whining about Benghazi- they didn't even squeak when it was 12 attacks and 60 diplomats under Jr., or the disaster of Iraq.

    The White House might do well to analyze the real level of support for this action- and the GOP should simply shut up. They are nothing but a ship of fools at this point.

    September 8, 2013 11:19 am at 11:19 am |
  2. Bigdoglv

    These clowns and their political circus have made our country a laughing stock. You may get your support from CONgress, but not from the people. Then again, since when did that matter.

    September 8, 2013 11:19 am at 11:19 am |
  3. sam

    Can anyone explain to me why Obama failed to send military help to save four American lives in Benghazi but he will move heaven and earth to protect Muslims fighting in a civil war using OUR Military to do it?

    September 8, 2013 11:19 am at 11:19 am |
  4. Joe

    So they still don't know 100% that Assad is responsible. That seems to be what they are saying. I wish someone would stand up and tell what exactly happened.

    September 8, 2013 11:19 am at 11:19 am |
  5. ag

    I wonder where the support comes from. No US citizen supports US intervention in Syria.

    September 8, 2013 11:19 am at 11:19 am |
  6. J3

    Ah yes, in a state of desperation, they always turn to simple phrases like 'common sense' and 'no question'.

    September 8, 2013 11:20 am at 11:20 am |
  7. Jerry Schull

    "Common Sense" is not always common. It may be "common" to a small group of people who are inundated with questionable data. The big lie was used quite successfully by Hitler and later by many other world leaders. Bush propagated his version of the big lie and we are still paying the price for that betrayal.

    I don't care about other countries opinions, and neither should the White House. They should care about the opinions and desires of the American people. IF Obama goes ahead and attacks Syria, against the will of the American people, then he is no better than a dictator. He will need to be impeached and removed from office.

    September 8, 2013 11:20 am at 11:20 am |
  8. gweed

    Mr. Denis McDonough should ask for his money back for his grammar class. Remember and/or, not/nor? If our elected people truly desire to represent the people who voted for them, why then are they not listening to the people? It appears the majority of what I read on this issue posted by US citizens do not favor a military response.

    September 8, 2013 11:21 am at 11:21 am |
  9. joe

    Finally, the leftists peaceniks start protesting Saint Barack. Their utter silence up until this point has been deafening, not to mention severely hypocritical. I wonder when the Hollywood types will start speaking out against Saint Barack.

    September 8, 2013 11:21 am at 11:21 am |
  10. DebC

    .... "Trust me, no one is listening to your calls"... Hmmm?? Why am I not believing that common sense tells us it is the Syrian government??? Is it because our President has a demonstrated a fondness for dancing around the truth? Just why is Al Jazeera running headlines that Obama is a member of the Muslim brotherhood anyway? (Probably because they can't be sued). Would invading Syria be hurting or helping the Muslim Brotherhood? ... I am so confused, although for the not so confused, the answer is that U.S. intervention would HELP the Muslim Brotherhood (aka al Queda) ... Maybe I should just follow our leader..... hmmmmm.

    September 8, 2013 11:21 am at 11:21 am |
  11. McBob79

    Good because Obama has screwed that up too.

    September 8, 2013 11:22 am at 11:22 am |
  12. Merlin

    If there has to be a bombing target in Syria, then take out the residence of Bashar al-Assad in Syria the same as Ronald Reagan did in April 1986 to take out Muammar Gaddaf of Libya.

    September 8, 2013 11:22 am at 11:22 am |
  13. EdL

    Fantastic! The White House speaks again. Some House! This House says 'this is not Iraq or Afghanistan'. The house could also say Iraq was snot Afghanistan, and Afghanistan was not Iraq. Stand by for the next House pronouncement!

    September 8, 2013 11:22 am at 11:22 am |
  14. US_Terror

    America is the root of all terror. America has invaded sixty countries since world war 2. In 1953 America overthrow Iran's democratic government Mohammad Mosaddegh and installed a brutal dictator Shah. America helped Shah of Iran to establish secret police and killed thousands of Iranian people. During Iran-Iraq war evil America supported Suddam Hossain and killed millions of Iranian people. In 1989, America, is the only country ever, shot down Iran's civilian air plane, killing 290 people. In 2003,America invaded Iraq and killed 1,000,000+ innocent Iraqi people and 4,000,000+ Iraqi people were displaced. Now America is a failed state with huge debt. Its debt will be 22 trillion by 2015 – If someone envaded your country and killed so many innocent people so many times, you would've done the same thing. I'd suggest to Obama to worry about your economy and stop being a 911 Police Emergency call for the whole world

    September 8, 2013 11:22 am at 11:22 am |
  15. Art

    Obama would serve America better as a waiter at the White House.

    September 8, 2013 11:23 am at 11:23 am |
  16. Anonymous

    It's not common sense to intervene in a civil war.

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

    You know what the problem is? No one has really said exactly what "THIS" consists of. Are we going to lob some tomahawks at suspected chemical storage or processing sites? Is that really, really the best idea they could come up with? What about using the cruise missiles against their AA platforms? Aren't most of them mobile? Does anyone really think the Putin will just sit there and do nothing while we degrade the defensive capabilities of his strongest regional ally?

    Of course Syria gassed it's own citizens. That isn't really an issue. In May, some of its citizens did the same thing themselves; you know, the terrorist factions that have threatened to hurt us, too? What the heck do we hope to get out of this? Why would the president, so recently wrong about..... well, everything, think that the Syrian situation could be solved in the exact same manner that failed everywhere else?

    September 8, 2013 11:24 am at 11:24 am |
  18. Bob

    If "common sense" is supposedly so common, why is it that no one in the White House has any?

    September 8, 2013 11:24 am at 11:24 am |
  19. Jorge washinsen

    No this is Syria,the only difference is the spelling of the swamp.

    September 8, 2013 11:24 am at 11:24 am |
  20. Anonymous

    I believe Noble prize should not have been given to Obama

    September 8, 2013 11:25 am at 11:25 am |
  21. Jorge washinsen

    173 responses is all you have allowed. Is the truth not in you?

    September 8, 2013 11:26 am at 11:26 am |
  22. Joe Texan

    The U.S. strategic plan for the global war against Muslim terrorism is a brilliant success. Muslim are killing Muslim in Syria, Iraq, Yemen, Egypt, Libya, Tunisia, Lebanon, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Indonesia, Mali, Sudan, and everywhere. Did we cause that to happen? Wow, our strategic planners are truely brilliant. Sit back, keep them armed, and watch them burn the Arab world to the ground. The Shia Hezbollah terrorists have declared war on the Sunni El Queda terrorists. The war in Syria is a proxy war between Sunni Saudi Arabia and Shia Iran. How good is that for us.

    September 8, 2013 11:26 am at 11:26 am |
  23. nytw

    I guess McDonough can join Obama, McCain, Pelosi and Boehner in Syria with his rifle.

    September 8, 2013 11:26 am at 11:26 am |
  24. McSame

    No, "common sense" says it was either a low-level, field commander who acted alone, or more likely, a terrorist attack.

    This is how they fight us: by killing civilians in the most horrific way possible, which they KNOW will draw us into more wars that we can't afford. It's not rocket science.

    September 8, 2013 11:26 am at 11:26 am |
  25. Common Sense

    Lets face it. The main reason for this potential strike on Syria, is actually to see what Iran does. The war mongers running our counry had that scenario planned out years ago. , get Iraq first then Iran.
    Both being threats to Israel.
    Why do you think that the Israeli lobby in Washington are now all over our Congress to give the go ahead. ?
    It's a slam dunk for them, They don;t care that the public is against this. They know we have SHORT TERM MEMORY and come election time, we the dummies vote their butts back in. We are a sorry bunch.

    September 8, 2013 11:28 am at 11:28 am |
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