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. Dink_Winkerson

    In D.C. it would appear that the team is not buying the locker room pep talk! Looks like the coach is going to have run this play by himself!

    September 8, 2013 11:29 am at 11:29 am |
  2. cwiz

    Something immoral happens, and the European response is "moral support". Ironic. European nations are weak.

    September 8, 2013 11:29 am at 11:29 am |
  3. dane2322

    Who we are fighting along here is not rebels who will build a democracy similar to the one here in the states.

    What we are fighting is a bunch of foreign extremists who are adamant at creating a muslim state, where religious tolerance and democracy are a dream. They will destroy Syria, its culture, its history, and its way of life.

    So why are we helping them? Why can't the American people wake up..why is there so much ignorance and stupidity out there? I don't get it....

    September 8, 2013 11:29 am at 11:29 am |
  4. gweed

    Perhaps Mr. McDonough may be able to obtain a refund from the grammar classes he must have passed but did not learn anything? Remember and/or, not/nor? Anyway, promoting a position of common sense on a Sunday morning talk show does not stand as a reason for a lethal armed response. Congress and the Administration must clearly articulate how this protects the USA or our interests. To date, they have not do so.

    September 8, 2013 11:30 am at 11:30 am |
  5. jpmichigan

    WE ( American people) have been given the wrong intel info before, because of it thousands of our young men and women have been killed or mamed by the barbarians terrorist in the middle east. $ American where killed in Benghazi and little/to nothing has been done about it. We supply money and supplies to countries that hate American and use what is give to help their people , to kill Americans. Stupidity runs amuk on the Hill. I question them, as to their sue of common sense. Killing innocent children with guns or out weapons doesn't matter, we only show anger when a countries during a civil war uses chemical weapons. One mans mistake of words, now falls on a nation in order to provide that individual with credibility he doesn't possess.

    September 8, 2013 11:30 am at 11:30 am |
  6. Dink_Winkerson

    It would appear that the team is not buying the locker room pep talk! Looks like the coach is going to have run this play by himself!

    September 8, 2013 11:30 am at 11:30 am |
  7. Matty Metta

    Astonishing. The rule of law and the scientific method of evidence is thrown out for something Gramma and Grampa had back on the farm...common sense. What a pack of sociopathic liars.
    STAY OUT OF SYRIA!

    September 8, 2013 11:32 am at 11:32 am |
  8. Flyover

    Once again, our govt is taking us for fools.
    Common sense says we should keep our nose in our own business.

    September 8, 2013 11:32 am at 11:32 am |
  9. Andy

    And you think Ms. Chief of staff that people will buy this rethorics? Two years has passed since the war began and thousands of people got killed and sudenly you got worried with 1400 peeple killed? Are you sure that you do not want to take people's attantion from other things that were revealed recently in the news?

    September 8, 2013 11:32 am at 11:32 am |
  10. I'mvotingforHillary

    I support Obama, but I think a strike would be pretty much useless unless it will take out Assad and establish a decent government, but we all know that won't happen. So we destroy a few empty bulidings, so what? A man who has no problems gassing kids ain't going to be fazed by something that isn't going to hurt him personally.

    September 8, 2013 11:33 am at 11:33 am |
  11. Bill Dinker

    Notice how no sources in this article cite the will of the American people.

    September 8, 2013 11:34 am at 11:34 am |
  12. Andy

    Of course it is completely out of the question that extremists would like to drag us into yet another conflict in that theater.

    September 8, 2013 11:36 am at 11:36 am |
  13. BO

    In 5 years this lousy administration has never admitted to the myriad of screw-ups they have created.

    September 8, 2013 11:36 am at 11:36 am |
  14. Joe Texan

    All this hysteria about a couple of hundred cruise missles. That's a tiny fraction of the U.S. defense budget and the Saudis already said they would pay for all the missles we launch. Obama should have already pushed the button. Launch those babies and punch another hole in the Arab world. Hell, Turkey is a NATO ally and are asking us to bomb Asaad. They should invoke Article 5 and demand that NATO come to their aid before they have 5 million Syrian refugees. BOMB Asaad and send the bill to the Saudis. We should also probably bomb Washington D.C. and the Canadians, just for fun. The Canadians have never been bombed, ever, and they are lacking a truely historical experience. Bomb Damascus and Ottawa.

    September 8, 2013 11:37 am at 11:37 am |
  15. EldRick

    "This is something that's targeted, limited and effective..."

    It's only limited if the other guy doesn't shoot back. Drop this stupid idea – we don't need another endless war.

    September 8, 2013 11:37 am at 11:37 am |
  16. Isabel

    We are not falling for any more lies. No more American blood shed for Islam!

    September 8, 2013 11:37 am at 11:37 am |
  17. BO

    Kerry protested against the very military he now wants to use to send our kids into conflict.

    September 8, 2013 11:38 am at 11:38 am |
  18. NameRobert Bower

    Is the Israli nation backing us too? I didn't think so! Why?

    September 8, 2013 11:38 am at 11:38 am |
  19. Goose66

    "targeted, limited and effective..." It's the oxymoronic combination of those words that is the problem. Simply saying that something will be "effective" doesn't make it so. The Administration can control targeted and limited, but they can only speculate as to effectiveness, yet they don't seem to get that in the way they present their argument. In addition, history does not bare out the effectiveness of such limited, targeted strikes.

    September 8, 2013 11:38 am at 11:38 am |
  20. common man

    may I say it makes common sense that you Mr. Kenyan Clown have destroyed practically everything you have put your fascist , Marxist hands into. Now if you had common sense Mr. Kenyan you would go back to your country of origin.

    September 8, 2013 11:38 am at 11:38 am |
  21. andres

    Ever since Obama's call to action, the 'action' has grown from a few tomahawk missles to now using B2's and B52's to wipe out Assad's airforce, command centers, ballistic missle installations. If anything this is an act of war and will lead to boots on the ground. Actually we already have boots on the ground in the form of advisors.

    DO NOT allow the us to escalate this war!

    September 8, 2013 11:39 am at 11:39 am |
  22. judah

    Ignorance and arrogance can be forgiven once or twice but not forever. American public knows well that these adventures have no good endings. People in Islamic nations are used to killings and this has been their lifestyle for thousands of years. No point in trying to teach them normal human life as they have no clue what it means.

    Obama is better off staying out of Syria unless of course he is hooking for better ratings.

    September 8, 2013 11:39 am at 11:39 am |
  23. Lt1024

    Denis McDonough , you need to stop smoking that weed. Any attack on a country is just that.. So if this US attack if it happens kills women and children then what, blame on "WAR". If we kill innocent women and children we are no better than Assad.

    September 8, 2013 11:39 am at 11:39 am |
  24. AbortionProphecy.wordpress.com

    Fighting for Al Qaeda is a treasonous idea. PERIOD.

    September 8, 2013 11:39 am at 11:39 am |
  25. Griffon

    Common Sense ran out of DC screaming a month after the Obama administration set up shop.

    September 8, 2013 11:40 am at 11:40 am |
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