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. Obummer

    Even though the AMerican people are against this Obama has demonstrated yet again that he, as a man, does NOT represent the people who elected him to office

    September 8, 2013 11:54 am at 11:54 am |
  2. Kriston

    The President's "Promises" and "Pledges" mean little to nothing to me anymore. He says one thing one minute and the opposite in another breath or trying to say he "never said that". I think that with Russia lining up warships along the Syrian border along with China is enough of a move to make us back off. We owe China so much money it's ridiculous so let's not tick them off and we don't need Russia ticked off at us either. It's an ugly situation but I think from the US stand-point we need to back off. Until our Nation is threatened we should stay out of it.

    September 8, 2013 11:54 am at 11:54 am |
  3. Zedenko

    I've just noticed that Bush triggers moderation to kick in. Odd, he was our president.

    September 8, 2013 11:54 am at 11:54 am |
  4. Michelle

    The President does not have the support of the American people in regards to US involvement in Syria. We do not want to send miraey troops, we do not want to spend billions of dollars. Later the same people we support try to kill American troops and civilians..

    September 8, 2013 11:54 am at 11:54 am |
  5. bence

    I used to watch cnn on tv but I going to quit watching it because it is for this bombing of Syria and I am taking it off of the computer I can't stand it

    September 8, 2013 11:55 am at 11:55 am |
  6. Libsrtyrants

    Common sense says the holy book of our alleged "allies" tells them to lie, if it furthers the cause of Islam.
    Common sense says these people are the originators of the "human shield" concept.
    Common sense says the rebels already got busted trying to bring Sarin in through Turkey.
    Common sense says the rebels already used Sarin back in March, against families that supported Assad.

    Common sense says it's the height of hubris to think you can use our military to lash out at other countries, dispensing death/"justice" as we see fit, and not expect them to respond accordingly.

    Common sense says the warmongers have no logic, reason, facts, or common sense on their side.

    September 8, 2013 11:55 am at 11:55 am |
  7. Zedenko


    September 8, 2013 11:55 am at 11:55 am |
  8. jake c

    Usa has responsibility to stop regimes abusing power against his own people.
    Just like what happened with the jews and Hitler.

    We have the obligation to stop this blood bath. Even if a lot of countries in the world did not approve of it. We are who we are because we stand up for what is right.

    Put ourselves in the syrians shoes and you will want someone to come and rescue us.

    I watched on tv the other days millions of people in syria calling for Obama to come and help assuring him that chemicals and bombs used by the regime are equall in terms of killing civilians.

    Bashar regime bombs civilians by air, long range artirlies taking down buildings regardless of where it is in the country.

    This is a mission that we have to undertake. I am a soldier and I support it.

    We are not the police of the world but we have the obligation to intervine when you have 100,000 plus. Have been killed. We have waited way too long already.

    Once regime is gone, all these qaeda people will leave the country. There will be some instability for who will rule but it will not be as bad as the regime is doing now

    September 8, 2013 11:55 am at 11:55 am |
  9. Obummer

    "The WH has plenty of support" From whom????

    September 8, 2013 11:55 am at 11:55 am |
  10. rwdragon

    Let Obama's daughters enlist in the military and see if he's still for this. And to think he crucified Bush for his actions.

    September 8, 2013 11:56 am at 11:56 am |
  11. Libsrtyrants

    If you are not against the imperialist war-mongers, you are one of them.

    September 8, 2013 11:56 am at 11:56 am |
  12. Gled Doynikov

    September 3, 2013 at 10:24 pm | Reply

    Wondering Russian

    Just curious, here goes chronological chain of events.

    1. Hezbollah (AKA Iran lol) starts supplying Assad with the only recourse he was short of to win the was against "rebels" (AKA Al Qaida, isn't it war against terror btw lol?) – unlimited amount of infantry ready to kill and dye in urban combats.
    2. Using them, Asad's forces start pushing "rebels" back all over Syria, breaking the course of war.
    3. US warns that it will get involved IF chemical weapon will be used.
    4. "Asad" (I've heard NO proofs other then Obama's word against Asad's word) uses sarin, that he DIDN'T use while he was actually loosing the war...
    5. US happily goes to war.

    Questions I personally have:

    1. If Asad is total idiot?
    2. Why did he used sarin AFTER the warning when his troops were winning, not before while they were loosing?
    3. US congress and people, are you actually buying this crap, or you just don't care anymore (after Iraq, Serbia, Afghanistan etc) who YOUR army is about to start killing and why?

    Have a good night sleep, America. Don't think too hard, you might get used to it lol

    September 8, 2013 11:56 am at 11:56 am |
  13. bobrimac

    Obama continues to lie. It IS another Iraq & Afghanistan & South Korea & Vietnam. We are not the world's policemen. Just STOP the wars!

    September 8, 2013 11:56 am at 11:56 am |
  14. Zedenko

    Fritz the cat

    September 8, 2013 11:56 am at 11:56 am |
  15. Rosemary

    Is our administration dumb enough to believe that people willing to send their children out as suicide bombers, wouldn't be capable of gassing their own side, to stir up support? And just how many sides are there, over there, anyway? Which side is best? The side in power, the side shooting bound soldiers in the back of the head, the side killing Christians, the side that hates Americans. Which side do we want to help?

    September 8, 2013 11:56 am at 11:56 am |
  16. jamesdusch

    Does it matter you don't have the support of the people? of course not, what was I thinking....

    September 8, 2013 11:56 am at 11:56 am |
  17. john

    In watching the Republican responses to Obama on Syria over the last year or say they say, "we dont approve of Obama not attacking", "we dont approve of Obama wanting to attack", "we dont approve of him attacking without our approval", "we dont approve of him asking us for our approval", "we wont give our approval, but we think he should attack anyways", "we dont think his attack will be successful", "we think his attack wont be enough", "we think his attack will be too much and turn into a war", I think that just about sums up all that needs to be said about what any Republican has to say .....

    September 8, 2013 11:56 am at 11:56 am |
  18. Blue boo

    If we kill one innocent civilian, would our "strikes" be considered a success?

    September 8, 2013 11:56 am at 11:56 am |
  19. Paul

    From an adviser to two presidents, Wiliiam Polk, in the latest Atlantic: "...if the missile attacks do succeed in “degrading” the Syrian government, it may read the signs as indicating that fighting the war is acceptable so long as chemical weapons are not employed. They may regard it as a sort of license to go ahead in this wasting war. Thus, the action will have accomplished little. Thus, as General Zinni points out, America will likely find itself saddled with another long-term, very expensive and perhaps unwinnable war. We need to remind ourselves what Afghanistan did – bankrupting the Soviet Union – and what Iraq cost us - about 4,500 American dead, over 100,000 wounded, many of whom will never recover, and perhaps $6 trillion.

    Can we afford to repeat those mistakes?"

    September 8, 2013 11:57 am at 11:57 am |
  20. Jimbo

    Common sense is something this administration has repeatedly demonstrated that it does not possess. God help us in lieu of Obama resigning.

    September 8, 2013 11:57 am at 11:57 am |
  21. theUSofterror

    Let it go obama. your terrorist group Al Qaeda in syria used the gas. you haven't shown one shred of proof which side used it and the photos kerry used were from Iraq in 2003. You're a liar and no one wants this war. look at the polls across the world more than 90% of the world says no and you still want to support the terrorist in Syria the same ones that killed US troops in Iraq. Obama should be in hague for his crimes against humanity along with Assad and the other dictators he sports in the ME.

    September 8, 2013 11:59 am at 11:59 am |
  22. sonnyboy

    Back in January the mainstream media uncovered a US backed plan to launch a chemical weapons attack in Syria and blame it on Assad’s regime. Look it up folks, 100's of sites on this.

    September 8, 2013 11:59 am at 11:59 am |
  23. msindependent

    Why should we believe a word Obama says? Is he going to show a video too ? (like they Tried to do with Benghazi?

    September 8, 2013 11:59 am at 11:59 am |
  24. Sean

    I think the real common sense should blame the terrorists called rebels!

    September 8, 2013 11:59 am at 11:59 am |
  25. WdoubleUweb

    Why is Nobel “Peace Prize” Obama so intent on bombing Syria? Most Americans oppose it; his own party opposes it; most countries in the world oppose it. Now he’s trying to save face by redirecting his “red line” as the world’s “red line”. The Nobel “Peace Prize” is bogus; it’s just a political trophy.
    Why is Obama selling advanced weapons to countries like Saudi Arabia? It’s not a democracy and is one of the worst violators of women’s and human rights. Is he promoting peace? He conveniently and hypocritically turns a blind eye when it comes to Arab oil money.

    September 8, 2013 12:00 pm at 12:00 pm |
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