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. davecu

    “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.”

    This IS a court! A court of opinion. People will die. Guilty or innocent, Obama claims to know.
    Barry, YOU drew the line in the sand, no one else.
    No one should have to die to resurrect you constantly diminishing credibility.

    September 8, 2013 12:12 pm at 12:12 pm |
  2. TedMI

    "fact that the materials were delivered by the kind of rockets that the regime has". Not true. Propellant use in these rockets is not used in military missiles. It's too expensive. There are much cheaper equivalents used in mass military production
    "it’s “common sense” that the Syrian regime carried out...." Just the opposite. Syrian forces were on offense and didn't need to use chemical weapon.
    "government says left more than 1,400 dead". numerous sources gave casualty count between 100+ and 1400. Why is 1400 used? Have UN inspectors confirmed the number? I don't think so
    We heard similar arguments and assurances before Libya attack. Lets look at the unintended consequences:
    some 40000 shoulder fired missals are missing among other weapon.
    Libya is destroyed as a country – tribes are at war with each other, oil production went down from 1.4 million to 160000 barrel a day, Muslim Brothers control the government
    How about Egypt? If it wasn't for their military we would have another Iran-like country in the region.
    This man in the White House creates destruction that won't be easy to undo

    September 8, 2013 12:13 pm at 12:13 pm |
  3. Kenman

    "Common sense"! Really!? That is what they expect us to accept as a reason to unilaterally inject ourselves into another Middle East civil war!? Really?

    Where have any of you EVER seen "common sense" applied to anything that Washington POLITICIANS have done? Common sense is the most uncommon thing in Washington of today!

    September 8, 2013 12:13 pm at 12:13 pm |
  4. Dave

    Where is the White House common sense when it comes to economic policies? This Syria hysteria is just a rouge to take our minds off of the obamacare train wreck and lack of jobs. These people have hated each other and mass murdered each other for over a thousand years. Let them keep at it.

    September 8, 2013 12:13 pm at 12:13 pm |
  5. Peter Clarke

    Not Iraq or Afghanistan but it certainly could be. I'm just one guy with one vote and me along with 90% of the American voters are absolutely against this middle east involvement. I feel sorry for the children but it is their parents doing. Come to your senses Washington and quit the warmongering.

    September 8, 2013 12:13 pm at 12:13 pm |
  6. Tim White

    "Common sense" is not evidence. We may presume it was the Syrian government committing the attack, but presumption is not basis for lethal response.

    September 8, 2013 12:14 pm at 12:14 pm |
  7. Maskinado

    Google: "Why Anonymous is doing almost nothing to stop World War III"

    September 8, 2013 12:14 pm at 12:14 pm |
  8. Joey Byden

    Kind of like "common sense" gun "safety" measures? Hint: If you hear the words "common sense" from the left, it means they are lying and most likely plotting something sinister.

    September 8, 2013 12:14 pm at 12:14 pm |
  9. ~27~

    Common sense says it was the regime? No, McDonough, common sense says that it was the rebels. Obama stated in August of 2012 that the red line to having us become involved was the use of chemical weapons. The rebels have been losing the fight to Asaad. Having the U.S. join the fight works in their favor and Obama made it public last year what needed to happen in order to get us involved.

    September 8, 2013 12:14 pm at 12:14 pm |
  10. JOE B

    Common sense obviously is not what the WH is using, as the Syrian government was winning the war against the Al Qaeda rebels so they had no reason to use chemical weapons. On the other hand the Al Qaeda rebels have no problem killing people in anyway they can. Just remember 12 years almost to this on 911, Al Qaeda killed thousands of innocent Americans at the New York Trade Center Twin Towers. Now Obama, McCain, Boehner and Kerry is on the side of the Al Qaeda killers. Our leaders are committing an act of treason against the American people and the people of Syria.

    September 8, 2013 12:14 pm at 12:14 pm |
  11. LI_Bri

    We are stretching the USD and out military beyond their intended limits. History shows the consequences of this. The USA is not on a good path.

    September 8, 2013 12:15 pm at 12:15 pm |
  12. sminer

    We get it, Syria starts with an "S". Iraq with an "I", Afghanistan There different. But what do they all have in common? Pointless wars that have done nothing to create a better situation, make us any safer, and have put us in ridiculous debt. And I could go on and on with the negatives.

    I think we could have killed Bin Laden for a little less than 20 trillion dollars. What do you think?

    September 8, 2013 12:15 pm at 12:15 pm |
  13. Ken

    It takes more than just Common Sense to justify another war in the Middle East. Reveal hard evidence that can be verified by other countries. To say it's just Common Sense that says the Assad regime is responsible is admitting they don't have hard evidence to support the claim.

    September 8, 2013 12:16 pm at 12:16 pm |
  14. steve l

    More like the absolute opposite of common sense. There was every motivation for the Syrian goverment to not use chemical weapons, especially when international envoys were there at the time and that the U.S. had kept harping on chemical weapons. And there was every reason for the terrorists or rebel groups to use chemical weapons so they could blame them on the government and get more cash, guns etc.

    September 8, 2013 12:17 pm at 12:17 pm |
  15. Patines

    Don't go away, just wait in there for the instant results of a venture called Syria.

    September 8, 2013 12:17 pm at 12:17 pm |
  16. Jimmy

    Have any of you watched the videos of the children gasping for air? What did those children do to deserve such a horrible death? I believe striking Syria is the right thing to do. Morally and because if we don't act we could be at risk. Not because I said it, I am not in the military, but because military leaders say it. Gen. David Patraeus just yesterday came out in support of striking Syria saying, "failure of congress to approve the president’s request would have serious ramifications not just in the Mideast but around the world.”

    And this is not Obama being hell bent on war. People who disagree with Obama on nearly EVERY single issue say it. John Mccain, Lindsay Graham,John Boehner even Eric Cantor supports it, Usually these people would block Obama on EVERY issue, They have seen the intel, they understand the consequences of not acting, have put politics aside in good of the country.

    If we do not act now, Assad and others in the world will have the green light to kill as many of its people that it wants to with chemical weapons. I ask you, how many have to be gassed to death before the world acts on a humanitarian basis? How many are you comfortable with dying? 500,000? 1 million? 5 million? What is your limit? Should the world intvervene in a genocide? I think we should. Thats my view, I know 99% disagree with me,but I dont think its right to sit back and watch children being gassed to death.

    September 8, 2013 12:18 pm at 12:18 pm |
  17. David W

    Reading over some of the comments...poor George Bush. Not sticking up for W but I didn't hate the guy. However, I have to admit, sounds like he is the new WH speach writer. "Plenty of support.....dontch Y'all worry about it."

    September 8, 2013 12:18 pm at 12:18 pm |
  18. King Wen

    Take a day and walk around
    Watch the Nazis run your town
    Then go home and check yourself
    You think we're singing about someone else

    –Frank Zappa "Plastic People"

    September 8, 2013 12:18 pm at 12:18 pm |
  19. Free Mark Emery

    War is bad...mkay?

    September 8, 2013 12:18 pm at 12:18 pm |
  20. Bob

    "Common sense"? What he is basically saying is that anyone who doesn't believe in Santa Claus is silly.

    The fundamental problem is that the WH mistakingly presents the impreession thinks that a) its hard to make several forms of chemical weapons..... which it is not. b) that deployment of sarin gas in particular is difficult..... which it is not. What the WH isn't telling people is that gas deployment methods have been around for over 100 years.... this alone would expand our suspects well beyond the regime.

    Again, they still can't come up with and "proof" that the regime were the ones who USED these weapons. All they have are the results of use, not any proof of who used them. Then there is the sticky problem of enabling the rebels.

    September 8, 2013 12:19 pm at 12:19 pm |
  21. Anthony

    Of course it is not Afghanistan - Afghanistan was in response to an attack upon the US. Syria is no threat to the US.

    September 8, 2013 12:20 pm at 12:20 pm |
  22. Peg

    My feeling is that the people of Syria are not our target, only Assad and his regime. Therefore our planned effort seems backwards. Rather than saying that we are not interested in getting rid of Assad, it seems like that should be our primary objective. Get rid of Assad, and get rid of the chemical weapons.

    September 8, 2013 12:20 pm at 12:20 pm |
  23. Darrell

    Common sense says stay the f out of Syria.

    September 8, 2013 12:21 pm at 12:21 pm |
  24. J.D. Lees

    It's definitely NOT "common sense" that Assad is responsible for the gas. Why would he deliberately provoke a U.S. attack when his troops were steadily winning? It seems to me that the U.S. people are showing good sense here, but your "leaders" are hellbent on making you look like like bullies and warmongers.

    September 8, 2013 12:21 pm at 12:21 pm |
  25. Unknowian

    When I see "Common Sense" in any branch of our Government, I may give some credibility to those words. If he wants to speak of "Common Sense", then he should realize the "common sense" to the fact that other nations only support a no violent solution to this subject.

    September 8, 2013 12:21 pm at 12:21 pm |
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