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. Scott

    I'm so sad to find that the President I voted for has become George W. Bush.

    September 8, 2013 12:00 pm at 12:00 pm |
  2. rondonaz

    Syria is definitely NOT Iraq. Saddam made not attempts to deny using chemical weapons to kill thousands of Kurds, unlike Assad, who is protesting that he is innocent of the charges. If ever there was a time to subject our 'proof' to critical scrutiny by the UN Security Council and the International Criminal Court, this is it. I cannot fathom why our President is so vehement about charging ahead with an attack, and so unwilling to take the alternative path that every other nation is urging. Is this all about Obama trying to save face? We don't care about his face; we just want to do the right thing – and that is definitely NOT to start firing missiles. I expected a lot better response from this President, and am deeply disappointed.

    September 8, 2013 12:00 pm at 12:00 pm |
  3. Nameash

    No matter what we do, its not gonna bring peace to the region. Name one Muslim country that is known for "peace". Just one. You can't. That's the issue that politically correct America is not willing to say. A muslim country will never see peace. When they run out of people to kill, they kill each other. And it will never change. Sorry if that offends you, but the truth is not always what you want to hear. Muslims hate us, they hate israel, they hate each other. Period.

    September 8, 2013 12:02 pm at 12:02 pm |
  4. jerrylax

    if BO opens his mouth it's a lie. He made this soup and he can lay in it. In 2008 the middle east was solid by comparison to the mess now...and BO has gaffed and gaffed and gaffed. We don't ned to spend billions and lives to make him look presidential...when he is anything butt!

    September 8, 2013 12:02 pm at 12:02 pm |
  5. George Mercado

    We need to win this debate and let washington know that the people are tired and will not partake of any wars. Screw everyone abroad, its time to take care of our own at home.

    September 8, 2013 12:02 pm at 12:02 pm |
  6. waitaminute

    With all of these scandals the President has no credibility. So he will have to show us evidence. Right now the evidence points toward the Rebels and the WH. Yossef Badansky. OilPrice dot com

    September 8, 2013 12:03 pm at 12:03 pm |
  7. US1

    Leave the middle east alone. Just leave them alone. If we wanted the same mess, we would not have voted for Obama, we would have voted for McCain. Americans are sick and tired of this, just sick of it. Brits did the right thing, they are sick and tired of all these worthless ugly wars too. Focus on pressing issues at home, like 18 trillion dollars debt, unemployment, healthcare, and so on.

    September 8, 2013 12:03 pm at 12:03 pm |
  8. 1010101010

    No, I do not think that the White House has the support that he needs, No this is not an eminent danger, No the Congress will not give him the green light, No do not get involved in Syria, What if one of your cruise missiles misses and takes out the Russian base in the area. NO, NO,NO. The answer is for Russia and China, and any other country to solve this problem. WE ARE NOT THE RIGHT COUNTRY TO SOLVE THIS SYRIAN PROBLEM!!!

    September 8, 2013 12:03 pm at 12:03 pm |
  9. lee8669

    An invitation should be issued to Assad to allow the UN to collect and destroy all chemical weapons. Assad should agree to this since he claims he isn't using them anyway. This would solve the problem of the possible future use of these weapons and make a strike by the US unnecessary. Even Russia and China should approve this idea. If Assad would rather accept the cruise missiles, at least we tried to take the moral high ground.

    September 8, 2013 12:04 pm at 12:04 pm |
  10. arizonapatriot

    there are no rebels in Syria only terrorists hiding among the civilians

    September 8, 2013 12:04 pm at 12:04 pm |
  11. whatever

    'Common Sense'??? These people blow themselves up all the time. For many it's their duty to Allah whom will reward them for their sacrifice in the afterlife. Not for one second do I believe it's outside the realm of possibilities that the rebels killed their own as well as civilians to further their cause.

    September 8, 2013 12:05 pm at 12:05 pm |
  12. frank

    Allow me To ask a serious questions of my fellow Americans.
    How do feel about that Hope & Change so far???

    September 8, 2013 12:05 pm at 12:05 pm |
  13. Yeeeech

    The strategy is to "send a message"????? A message written in blood of our soldiers? A message carved in stone that won't change with the President's political whims? A poison pen message? Delivered where and spelled out with the dead bodies of Syrian civilians and wrecked infrastructure? No wonder Congress is running 10 to 1 against mailing anything to Syria.

    September 8, 2013 12:06 pm at 12:06 pm |
  14. Estes


    How about "manifold"?

    September 8, 2013 12:06 pm at 12:06 pm |
  15. John Smyth

    Common sense tells me not to trust this administration as they have repeatedly LIED.

    September 8, 2013 12:07 pm at 12:07 pm |
  16. Ryan L

    Why a strike? Even a limited one. Its like a grown man walks up to another grown man and slaps him on the hand for a crime he committed. What would happen? Answer: The guy gets punched!!

    All I want to say is that Russia , Iran, and Syria and other countries will retaliate against the U.S if we do a limited strike. Its a given fact. Now my question is this.. Is it worth risking peace in the U.S and through out the world just to slap Syria on the hand? The people say No!

    Its disturbing when we will say "NO", yet our president will stand up for international norms rather than his own people's interest.

    We are already to late in the game with Syria and what we do will not help. INFACT it will help the terrorist more than anything. No clear evidence has been released to the public showing that Syria launched a rocket. There are articles claiming that Saudi Arabia gave a rebel group chemical weapons when it was intended for the al-Qaeda group. One report blames it on the fact that the rebels didn't know how to use the weapon which backed fired on them. Causing this massacre.

    So since the U.S is so gun-ho on blaming and punishing countries, shouldn't they punish Saudi Arabia? Since the reports blame them too. And oh by the way.... notice how Saudi Arabia is backing the U.S for this strike , but they said at the Arab Union, " they want more than a limited strike".

    I think the U.S is being played into terrorism.

    September 8, 2013 12:07 pm at 12:07 pm |
  17. longtooth

    We should wring our hands, raise our eyes to the sky, and pray that all this unpleasantness goes away. That works every time.

    September 8, 2013 12:07 pm at 12:07 pm |
  18. BudW

    The American people say no by a vast majority, are you listening politicians?

    September 8, 2013 12:07 pm at 12:07 pm |
  19. pjoe

    Thank you Captain Obvious. Yes, each war is unique.

    What are we fighting for? To "send a message"? No thanks. Try YouTube.

    Can we fight for religious freedom and democracy, please?

    September 8, 2013 12:08 pm at 12:08 pm |
  20. Americans

    LOLZ spends millions of dollars in war based on common sense!!

    September 8, 2013 12:08 pm at 12:08 pm |
  21. Susan

    How many Syrian children will be murdered, maimed or orphaned in the WH's response to what is now "common sense" not actual proof? What is the acceptable number to the Obama administration?

    September 8, 2013 12:09 pm at 12:09 pm |
  22. Citizenright

    "Common sense"??

    it is common sense that Assad did NOT do this. There was nothing in it for him to do it. What possible benefit would Assad get from attack civilians with a weapon that would bring, at the least, international condemnation?

    September 8, 2013 12:10 pm at 12:10 pm |
  23. Name rwang

    Common sense say is there crude-oil in Syria?

    September 8, 2013 12:11 pm at 12:11 pm |
  24. Marlene H. Klim

    Credibility – NONE Trust – NONE

    Lies, lies, and more lies.

    At this point, what difference does it make. How many people do you have to kill and/or maim to resuscitate one dead person. Is this modern day Hatfield & McCoys – you slapped my kid, now I have to slap yours. A return to a cave mentality and we want to jump in to prove we can be just as barbaric as they are. Here comes WWIII. We should all be advised that this obviously 0butthead's goal.

    And, of course he has blown every dime in the US, Gutted the military and handicapped them besides. What better time to kick off the 3rd world war. Great job voters.

    September 8, 2013 12:11 pm at 12:11 pm |
  25. well

    all the zionists have lined up pushing yet another war, as they live on human blood.

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