September 8th, 2013
09:04 AM ET
10 years 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.

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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. Joey Isotta-Fraschini ©™

    I don't know: can you declare "just a little bit of war?"
    Is this a caning of only two strokes?
    Are we Syria's parent?
    Can a president say, "I shouldn't have said that?"
    Regardless, I support Obama.

    September 8, 2013 11:40 am at 11:40 am |
  2. BO

    Supporting Obama = Supporting al Qaeda rebels in Syria.

    September 8, 2013 11:42 am at 11:42 am |
  3. Blake

    I personally am so glad reading these comments, because it shows how much the American people actually understand something. It shows that we're not the blind sheep that our leaders think we are. That I thought most Americans were.

    September 8, 2013 11:42 am at 11:42 am |
  4. MontanaTrace

    100,000+ killed by bombs, guns tanks. We do nothing. 1,400 killed by gas. We bomb, so they will stop? Russia has a military base on the coast of Syria. Let them settle this. Other Middle Eastern countries need to step in.Why us?

    September 8, 2013 11:43 am at 11:43 am |
  5. Zedenko

    When this fails it will become known as the Bush Strategy, because as we all know it's Bush's fault.

    September 8, 2013 11:44 am at 11:44 am |
  6. Tim Boyer

    Folks, the U.S. is broke; we borrow 40 cents of every federal dollar (writing IOU's for the next generation to pay).
    We cannot afford to be the world's police force unless other countries are willing to share in the associated expenses.

    September 8, 2013 11:45 am at 11:45 am |
  7. IraqVet

    I don't know where this administration gets its common sense, but this isn't Chicago anymore....My common sense suggests that maybe the rebel/al-Quaida could have done this as well and had bigger reasons for doing so. My common sense says if the world doesn't like it then let the world do something about, we have been at war for generations and it's about time the world pick up the slack....Because while we are worried about freedom abroad, the government has been taking ours here at home.

    September 8, 2013 11:46 am at 11:46 am |
  8. sunnylovetts

    Correct this is not Iraq or Afghanistan, it's Syria another country the US wants to bomb. But this time we will actually be attacked back by entire nations, not just some scattered opposition in the hillside.

    American politicians are making a big mistake supporting this evil.

    September 8, 2013 11:46 am at 11:46 am |
  9. OV

    It's 'common sense' Obama ordered the IRS targeting as well.

    September 8, 2013 11:47 am at 11:47 am |
  10. Kyle G

    First the Obama administration told us that the evidence collected by their "independent" team made it without a doubt that the Syrian govt carried out the chemical attack. Now they say the evidence shows it's "common sense" that they carried out the attack. A d they wonder why the American people and the rest of the world doubt them.

    September 8, 2013 11:47 am at 11:47 am |
  11. pepina

    "Common sense" in DC... What a novel concept.

    September 8, 2013 11:48 am at 11:48 am |
  12. Paul

    “Now do we have irrefutable, beyond reasonable doubt evidence? This is not a court of law, and intelligence does not work that way,”

    RIP due process...

    September 8, 2013 11:48 am at 11:48 am |
  13. jim

    This is NOT Iraq. It is worse. No oil in Syria. We will be killing the enemy(Assad's foreces) of our enemies (Al Nusra Al Qaeda).! Our presidents love to spend on our tax dollars and soldiers lives by war-mongering. I guess John McCain did not get voted into the white house in 04, but we got his evil twin to do the same work for the past 6 years.
    So much for the will of the American people!

    September 8, 2013 11:48 am at 11:48 am |
  14. joney

    Former U.S. intelligence analysts claim current intelligence analysts have told them Syrian President Bashar al-Assad was not responsible for the Aug. 21 poison gas attack on the outskirts of Damascus, Syria, which killed 1,429 people, of whom more than 400 where children.

    They claim the “growing body of evidence” reveals the incident was a pre-planned provocation by the Syrian opposition and its Saudi and Turkish supporters.

    September 8, 2013 11:49 am at 11:49 am |
  15. Oogie

    I'm just glad that the Obama-is-a-Muslim set are being led into anti-war views for once in their lives. The folks would never usually speak up for peace, but if Obama is for bombing, then they must be for peace since they are against everything he ever says (but it is NOT because he's black ;). I just hope some of this anti-war sentiment takes root and sticks around in conservative values. Up till now, you pretty much had to back a liberal (with a few libertarians thrown in) to vote for somebody with anti-war values.

    September 8, 2013 11:50 am at 11:50 am |
  16. USA

    I am glad that our 18 trillion dollars debt is fixed, the unemployment and healthcare issues are are resolved. We now need to worry about a bunch of hooligans oceans away from us whom want to overthrow a legit government. How about all those Syrian residents in the news whom love and support their current government and want to be protected from those hooligans. We voted for Obama to have no more wars, if we wanted more of these mess, we would have voted for McCain. Leave the middle east alone, just leave them, alone. Americans are sick and tired of these stuff, just sick of it. Brits did the right thing, looks like they are sick and tired of it all too. Focus on pressing issues at home.

    September 8, 2013 11:51 am at 11:51 am |
  17. oh no!

    this may just be america's the chance to replace the disgrace obama with a PRESIDENT!

    September 8, 2013 11:52 am at 11:52 am |
  18. junglecogs

    I would question absolutely everything Obama or his administration claims. These people have proven that they are not to be trusted.

    September 8, 2013 11:52 am at 11:52 am |
  19. boowest7

    We are sick of your fake polls and manipulation of facts in the way that suits the big corporations that own us. We WILL NOT take it anymore.

    September 8, 2013 11:52 am at 11:52 am |
  20. June_B_Marcus

    Would this be the same "common sense" which lead the administration to claim the Benghazi attach was due to a YOUTUBE video? Just taking a gut check on credibility here!

    September 8, 2013 11:53 am at 11:53 am |
  21. Citizen

    And by "Common Sense" he means "The Military Industrial Complex"

    Not falling for the lies any more. DEFUND THE TSA, DEFUND THE NSA and charge the likes of McCain and Company with Treason and Fraud.

    It's time to take back our country.

    September 8, 2013 11:53 am at 11:53 am |
  22. Mary1972

    We have no proof that chemical wweapons are used by Assad. When 2 bad guys fight, it does not make sense to give ammunition to one of the bad guys. Just declare a) No fly zone and b) Find alternatives to war and c) Make sure refugees have access to food and shelter.
    That is the only answer to this civil war.

    September 8, 2013 11:53 am at 11:53 am |
  23. Zedenko

    This will be remembered as the Bush Strategy.

    September 8, 2013 11:53 am at 11:53 am |
  24. rwdragon

    Plenty of support??? I don't know ANYONE who supports going into Syria. I don't even know anyone in the military who supports this move. I guess Hollywood does since they are mysteriously quiet.

    September 8, 2013 11:54 am at 11:54 am |
  25. SamM

    I am sure we remember, how the Gulf War came about. Good ol' Di__ck (the Haliburton Cheney) went over to Saudi Arabia, behalf of America. In the middle of the night, Di_ck woke the old King Fahd, and showed him doctored photographs of Saddam Hussein's Army moving into Saudi Arabia. Now we all know that this in fact never happened. Saddam could not have the guts to go against Saudi Arabia, considering that Saudi Arabia is considered a leading religious power in the Middle East and also in its relationship with America and the West.

    We also know how later on during the Iraq invasion, the one in which the great, G. Dubya convinced the American people that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction. So here we have another president, and yet another time, trying to convince everyone that Syria needs to be taught a lesson.

    Is this not history repeating itself ?

    Is this not similar to what has been done numerous times before ?

    All such presidential lies (G. Dubya said that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction, the earlier Bush (George Herbert Walker Bush)convinced the then Saudi King Fahd that Saddam was about to attack them.

    Essentially all recent president's and all the president’s men (Di_ck Cheney then, John Kerry now) simply manipulate the American people. We then have news Media like NBC and all simply supporting such presidential lies.

    Wherever America has gone, death and destruction has followed.

    a) America went to Vietnam and spread so much agent Orange that half of the country is still messed up.

    b) America went to Iraq and the country is still messed up right royally.

    c) America went to Afghanistan and the country is still f_kd up.

    d) America went to Libya and see how bad that situation there is.

    e) America supported Egyptian coup and the terrorist brotherhood and look at the situation in that country.

    And now Russia baying for Obamination's blood (remember Nuremberg war crime tribunal) ! !

    We never learn (no, not even from our past mistakes) ! ! !

    People like John Kerry have nothing better to do then prove that they know a lot about Chemical weapons and all that. The fact that the origin of chemical Weapons are extremely difficult to trace is never mentioned. It is said that once dispersed the only way to trace the chemical weapon like Sarin gas is normally from the exploded containers. This is because no two countries make exactly same kind of Sarin gas.
    Different kinds of of Sarin gas is said to have different chemical signatures because they maybe developed using different methods.

    How come John Kerry does not reveal anything about this, since he knows so much about it ? Russia even asked him to prove this and that he probably was lying but all that was said that he will not lose sleep over Russian accusations ! ! Here again we have Denis McDonough saying that it is " common sense" that Syrian regime carried out the deadly chemical weapons attack ! !

    How is it common sense ?

    Is this the same kind of common sense that America used in the points a) to points e) mentioned above ? .

    September 8, 2013 11:54 am at 11:54 am |
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