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. Don in Auburn

    "Commonsense" has become an overused code word for "If you disagree with me, you are an unreasonable extremist" Meanwhile, it is way too late to do anything. Assad's people have had way too long to move weapons and relocate troops. Their most valuable stuff got moved to the Russian naval base where it is untouchable. We will be spending 100's of millions of dollars blowing up empty buildings and killing innocent civilians who happen to be in the area. Meanwhile the "Free" Syrian Army now consists mainly of blood thirsty al-Qaeda Islamists who self-righteously torture and execute captives and people of other faiths and burn churches. These are the people we are supporting? Is that commonsense?

    September 8, 2013 12:30 pm at 12:30 pm |
  2. oldpatriot

    I dont know about you but I have a problem with using the empty argument that its common sense when something like war is on the line. I want to see real hard evidence and the facts presented to the UN Security Council before I would support any kind of action, good thing I am just a citizens who opinion is just ignored by our politicians.

    September 8, 2013 12:31 pm at 12:31 pm |
  3. Tact

    We as a country need to unify and call our senators and representatives condemning our involvement in this conflict. They still have a "moral" obligation to listen to the will of the people who put them in a position of power. Call them. Let the overflow of voices let them know if we are not heard then come election time they will be gone.

    September 8, 2013 12:31 pm at 12:31 pm |
  4. Jessie

    l think the American people need to be heard and start protesting this. lt amazes me how one man and his goonies can go ahead and start something that they won't be able to finish. With the involvement of US troops in the previous 2 wars, l would think they would take a step back and look for another solution. There are superpowers involved here, the Chinese and Russians who oppose this
    and who are willing to start dropping the A-bombs and it's allies. Let the Syrians fight their own war. The people who elected Obama need to step up and be heard before WWW3 breaks out.

    September 8, 2013 12:31 pm at 12:31 pm |
  5. Virginia

    What 'common sense' should tell us all is that if the US bombs, it wil go like this: 1. ANYTHING we do is throwing a lighted match into a powder keg. It WILL escalate. They or their allies retaliate or there are numerous terror attacks against US interests, and they will be back on TV demanding 'action' and being 'compelled to respond to this outrage' etc. 2. Once you have 'degraded his capabilities' (translation: destroyed the military defense of a sovereign nation who has committed no aggression against the US personally) the country WILL fall into turmoil as the warring rebel factions, many of whom are terrorists, battle to take control. Thousands more innocent civilians and little kids will be killed. 3. When the most radical faction inevitably wins out, the US will claim it must step in, the involvement will grow, they will install a puppet government no one in the country likes, and have to stay for a dozen or more years to 'train security forces to take over' as more fighting and terror attacks against our troops and any Syrians on our side rage on for years. They will claim they 'can't get out now' or it will 'fall apart.' Haven't we all heard this before? They should have enough 'common sense' to see where it all leads. We can't afford this mess and nobody wants it. Please don't!

    September 8, 2013 12:32 pm at 12:32 pm |
  6. dave

    So how much money and/or troops are the supporters sending? A verbal "go for it", isn't enough this time. I want to see other countries sending their young people and serious amounts of money, before I even consider America's involvement.

    September 8, 2013 12:32 pm at 12:32 pm |
  7. psychicstalker

    The point of the strike against Syria isn't to bring about peace, it is to degrade al Assad's assets to limit his capacity to use chemical weapons in the civilian population and if some other things get taken care of in the process, like the de-capitation of the current Syrian regime, then that would be an incidental bonus.

    September 8, 2013 12:33 pm at 12:33 pm |
  8. Jimbo

    Can't we just send Jane Fonda into Syria?

    September 8, 2013 12:33 pm at 12:33 pm |
  9. jim mraz

    The only support WH has is from the OIL SUNNi Arab countries wanting to take down the shia Muslims -- America are you really being bought off now by Muslim Imams of sunni's YOU DO NOT KNOW WHAT YOUR GETTING YOURSELF INTO.... STAY AWAY. This is Religion not Human Rights. trust me there is a difference.

    September 8, 2013 12:33 pm at 12:33 pm |
  10. kennyzales

    Dear WH and BO: Go it! I dare ya. I double-dare ya. Do you think that Americans will continue to be passive lemmings who will continue to take your malfeasance while taking no action? Do you think we do not have our own red line which you are dangerously close to crossing? I almost hope you do it...I reallly do. It's just about that time when the American people "express themselves" with how fed up we are with the irresponsible nonsense coming out of Washington.

    September 8, 2013 12:34 pm at 12:34 pm |
  11. smkedbacon

    Plenty of support? Not in the UNITED STATES OF AMERICA!

    September 8, 2013 12:34 pm at 12:34 pm |
  12. Him

    So much for the "will of the people" – they will pay at the polls next year, all of them – please vote Libertarian.

    September 8, 2013 12:34 pm at 12:34 pm |
  13. JBSPuddintane

    Syrian forces may have used gas without Assad's permission
    "The Limbaugh Doctrine"

    September 8, 2013 12:34 pm at 12:34 pm |
  14. OregonBuzz

    Anytime a politician uses the phrase, "common sense", I get nervous. The conflict in Syria is a civil war between Muslim factions, each wanting to rule the other. Whatever means they utilize to achieve that end is immaterial. They are not a threat to the U.S., now or later. It's just Muslims killing Muslims. Sounds like a win win for the civilized world. What's left of it.

    September 8, 2013 12:35 pm at 12:35 pm |
  15. chris mills

    Do you seriously believe this crap? When is enough enough with the US Sick of it, Why is there no mention of the Russians taking control of all Chemical weapons of Syria for over 6 months? No, nobody talks about that!

    September 8, 2013 12:36 pm at 12:36 pm |
  16. Jakinak

    Anytime that someone uses the term common sense, you know they've got nothing, because there is no such thing! We might have common experience or common knowledge, but there is nothing common about sense. (as demonstrated by the US Congress)

    September 8, 2013 12:36 pm at 12:36 pm |
  17. Torch1952

    If this administration had any "common sense" the Keystone pipeline would have been completed by now and there would be no stonewalling on Fast & Furious, Benghazi, IRS targeting, NSA spying, etc..

    September 8, 2013 12:36 pm at 12:36 pm |
  18. idb

    The White House has not shown common sense since 2009. It is clear to anyone, with only a little bit of common sense and the most minute of judging skills, that the insurgents have set this up because they wanted the US to take out Assad.

    September 8, 2013 12:37 pm at 12:37 pm |
  19. gphx

    Assad has reportedly already killed 100,000 by conventional means. What would he have to gain by killing 1,400 with chemical weapons when he could have just as easily killed them with a missile? Bringing the wrath of the world onto his head?

    What would the Obama administration gain from ensuring the rebels had access to chemical weapons, used them, and framed Assad in the process? A green light to invade Syria and possibly Iran as well? Events they've had planned for years as part of taking down the middle east like a house of cards starting with Iraq?

    There are dozens to hundreds of videos, even some on Youtube, reportedly showing the rebels engaged in chemical weapons activities. All those reportedly showing Assad doing it are classified by the president and we are supposed to take his word for it because the American people aren't trustworthy enough to see the evidence.

    Common sense indeed.

    September 8, 2013 12:37 pm at 12:37 pm |
  20. Art

    Common Sense is if we strike the fuse the powder keg will explode.

    September 8, 2013 12:37 pm at 12:37 pm |
  21. Wade

    You have no support says America!

    September 8, 2013 12:37 pm at 12:37 pm |
  22. Dave Rogers

    Today, I see the well regulated press emphasizing the Al Qaeda presence in Syria. The inference would be that the US government was going to hit Al Qaeda too.

    September 8, 2013 12:38 pm at 12:38 pm |
  23. Art

    Is everybody getting a note on their post that it is awaiting moderation? It should read the state run media CNN is about to censor your comments.

    September 8, 2013 12:39 pm at 12:39 pm |
  24. arizonapatriot

    terrorists have finally figured out how to get the "great satan" to come and fight their JIHAD for them. our president has climbed into bed with terrorists if he sends one bomb into Syria. our foreign policy has been not to negotiate with or assist terrorists. Syria is a state sponsored terrorist supporter, a sworn enemy of Israel, allied with the sleeping bear(former USSR), blood brothers to Iran. there is no right answer only death and destruction will be the outcome.

    September 8, 2013 12:40 pm at 12:40 pm |
  25. EdR

    Anyone remember the TV commercials featuring Joe Isuzu, who lied at every opportunity? McDonough, Power, Kerry – all lying for Obama, who lies to the American people. They need to wake up from their delusions to realize the incalculable damage they are doing to America's credibility in the international community as well as the enormous loss of political capital of this administration. They are rapidly nailing in the lid on the coffin of this lame-duck administration. Obama will be hard-pressed to get ANYTHING from this Congress or the American people until time sweeps him into the dustbin of history.

    September 8, 2013 12:40 pm at 12:40 pm |
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