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. Jude Walker

    I don't see the point in any military action at this point. We have given Syria time to move any weapon that they would be concerned about us hitting. We never would/will hit the chemical weapons as that would make us the ones releasing chemicals into the air. We are just slapping Assads wrist saying don't use chemicals. Well what are we going to do if he does use them again? Slap his other wrist. And where are these limited attacks to take place, the desert, that's the only place we may be somewhat assured to not killing anyone. I hate that innocents got killed, but that is what happens in any country that is at war. Israel, Pakistan, Iraq, etc. have innocents killed pretty regularly, again, that's what happens in wars. Save those expensive missiles for a country that accually attacks the US.

    September 8, 2013 01:18 pm at 1:18 pm |
  2. Shuami

    So this time, we don't even need a photo of Saddam's alleged chemical lab to wage a war, we just need "common sense"! Progress, won't you say?!
    There is no question heinous crimes have been committed (with all those photos and videos peddled for their maximum effect). But WHO did it?? Why can't we wait for the UN to finish their investigation before we call for Assad's head??

    September 8, 2013 01:19 pm at 1:19 pm |
  3. Jerry Okamura

    When a country goes to war, no one can tell you what will happen as a result of starting that war.

    September 8, 2013 01:19 pm at 1:19 pm |
  4. pjoe

    I guess Pearl Harbor was a "limited action" by the Japanese.
    I guess 9/11 was a "limited action" by Al Queda.

    September 8, 2013 01:20 pm at 1:20 pm |
  5. John

    Common sense has replaced proof? Before common sense can be appllied several factors have to be examined. Who is going to benefit from a U.S. intervention.? Who are the rebels? What has already happened in Libya and Egypt after their governments were removed? How does it affect Americans to help these rebels?

    September 8, 2013 01:20 pm at 1:20 pm |
  6. John Crank

    We should help Assad. After all, isn't Al Quida our true threat and enemy? We should stay out all together!

    September 8, 2013 01:21 pm at 1:21 pm |
  7. Donald Berrian

    This is a lot worse than Iraq or Afghanistan because they were not Russian client states when we went in. This has the potential to turn into a general war involving much of the Middle East. Failure to secure widespread support before acting is lunacy. It is clear at this point that the opposition to American intervention is pretty much universal even among out allies. Our enemies are just itching for the chance to cause us grief. Never in history has the US committed a folly as great as what is being proposed.

    September 8, 2013 01:23 pm at 1:23 pm |
  8. Justsayin'

    Obuma sure bungled this one up! Draw a red line then blame the world for backing yourself into a corner. If Syria is such a threat to national security, you'd think Obuma would bypass Congress like he did with Libya. Nope. Pass the buck to Congress and if it looks like they won't support you, tell the world you don't need Congressional approval anyway. The US has wanted Assad out of power for some time now and they are getting desperate to obtain that objective.

    These politicians rely on a video, which is offered by some of the best propagandists in the world, and claim a "common sense" (hypothetical) deduction that it had to be Assad who used the chemical weapons? Seriously? Where was this type of "common sense" when it came to Benghazi, or NSA, or IRS targeting, etc., and Obuma's denial of any knowledge of it?

    Aside from all that, I don't recall hearing one politician address the fact that Iran and Russia stated they would retaliate if the US attacked Syria, nor have I heard the 'plan' the US has in place for after they strike and/or face retaliation. The majority of Americans don't want this war, but it seems they have more "common sense" than the people who supposedly represent them.

    September 8, 2013 01:23 pm at 1:23 pm |
  9. nomad674

    since when has this administration had common sense!!!!! also we have been lied to from obama so many times why should we believe him now!!!

    September 8, 2013 01:24 pm at 1:24 pm |
  10. mickar

    Wow, I would have hoped they have more evidence that it was Assad responsible for the alleged chemical weapons attack than just 'common sense'.

    Don't these people remember Iraq and all the assurances then?

    September 8, 2013 01:25 pm at 1:25 pm |
  11. Patricia

    Americans were not killed in Syria. This event occurred within the borders of Syria and was perpetrated by someone there, be it rebel or Syrian government. The penalties imposed for the illegal use of chemical weapons is a matter for the United Nations to decide. All of Obama's hollering, I believe, is to put distance between himself and his woes here at home, i.e. the IRS, the NSA, but most of all Benghazi. Where was his OUTRAGE when Americans were dragged through the streets from chains and vehicles? Where was his OUTRAGE?

    September 8, 2013 01:27 pm at 1:27 pm |
  12. Chris R.

    Please! The Obummer administration has many things, but common sense is not one of them. They are out of control authoritative regime that thinks they have an answer for everything and need to get involved in everything. We have seen nothing but bad leadership and criminal intentions...

    September 8, 2013 01:28 pm at 1:28 pm |
  13. cj3bm2hb

    Did the Syrian regime carry out these chemical attacks? "Common Sense" is NOT the right answer. The answer to that question is in the form "objective indisputable evidence". By that I mean pictures, documents, video, something with definitive verifiable links back to the Syrian Gov't. that they are solely responsible. This emotional rhetoric that Kerry et al try to proliferate proves nothing except that innocent civilians died from chemical weapons...not who did it. Lastly, this evidence has to the shared explicitly with the US public. Otherwise it sounds just like another Iraq WMD scam. Even if they can prove it, we have no business there.

    September 8, 2013 01:29 pm at 1:29 pm |
  14. David

    When the Kurds came under a chemical weapons attack in Iraq we did what? Oh that's right nothing. I guess we just pick and choose what's on the buffet and what's fashionable for the time. Our military is battle rattled. Our men and woman need a break from the global police detail. Got a little insurrection right here in the old USA. Its called Poverty. What's say we deal with that for a tad.

    September 8, 2013 01:30 pm at 1:30 pm |
  15. teaparty days are numbered

    if Assad knows he can get away with using WMD's on his own people. what and or who could be next?

    September 8, 2013 01:30 pm at 1:30 pm |
  16. Samuel Clemens

    There hasn't been any common sense in the White House sense Ronald Reagan left office.

    September 8, 2013 01:32 pm at 1:32 pm |
  17. Freeland_Dave

    Well there ya go. If it's "common sense" in this administration it must be false. Why? Because this administration has no "common sense" about virtually anything.

    I don't particularly like Assad or Putin for that matter, but given the known and verified history of Al Qaeda associations on the part of the Syrian Rebels, along with a history of having them arrested a couple of years back in possession if Sarin Gas, coupled with the intentional disinformation distributed to the US citizenry regarding what happened in Benghazi, I just can't bring myself to totally trust what Kerry and Obama are telling me. John Kerry a rich pathological liar and Obama, a pathological obfuscator.. We, the people and citizens of the United States, need a lot more information about this before we allow our government to commit to any type of military intervention. Yes, bring those who are guilty of this heinous act to justice. But first, we need to know who those people are and not use things like "common sense", something our administration plainly does not have or use, before we start killing people through military intervention.

    September 8, 2013 01:32 pm at 1:32 pm |
  18. Frontal lobe

    We don't need more trouble right now, millions of Americans live from week to week struggling in a stressful environment to feed families, we don't need a global war which will be the outcome of continued interventionist activities by the US. Government. There has been no real success in the last decade of wars, the US fought its own civil war with a loss of 600k lives, if they want freedom and democracy they need to work and pay the price, let the victory be theirs and theirs alone!

    September 8, 2013 01:32 pm at 1:32 pm |
  19. jimmy

    We must wage are against Syria to save Obama's credibility. It is a small price to pay for Obama to save face. Stand up for your President.

    September 8, 2013 01:34 pm at 1:34 pm |
  20. Joe

    This administration is so used to getting away with blatent lies, they just cannot stop it. "We have plenty of support". The only support for military action is from Sunni countries like Saudi Arabia who want to weaken the Shiite regime of Assad. We have been in the middle of a Sunni/Shiite civil war in Iraq. We do not want to get in the middle of another one in Syria. Stay out.

    September 8, 2013 01:34 pm at 1:34 pm |
  21. Panicazi

    The Administration is populated with arrogant, ignorant, foolish people that think We the People are unfit to govern ourselves. Pushing for ANY Military action against anyone is not going to go well for "Those People".

    September 8, 2013 01:36 pm at 1:36 pm |
  22. Ted Coffey

    I am with congressman Duncan, Answer questions pending on numerous scandals before groveling for further support. Listen to the American people, I would wager they have more common sense than any White House advisor!

    September 8, 2013 01:36 pm at 1:36 pm |
  23. hunter

    We are being played for fools by a foolish Administration. They dithered over Syria for years, have blown Libya and Egypt, have left Iraq unstable and are abandoning Afghanistan to the Taliban. This Administration stood by when Iranians were standing up to theocratic dictators. This Administration stood by when chemical weapons were used previously in Syria, for God's sake. Now it is our fault if we don't let the President start a strategically useless war?
    Shame on this President and his team.

    September 8, 2013 01:38 pm at 1:38 pm |
  24. Derek

    The White House is doing a dog and pony show and has no intention of striking Syria. All this tough talk is simply for the media to report on and is actually intended for the Syrian government to hear. Obama knows there is no way Congress is going to pass this. All of this is being done for show due to making it look like he is talking tough from his previous "red line" comments. If Obama really had intention of striking Syria, he would have done saw with the powers vested in him by the War Powers Resolution, which he could strike with Congressional support.

    September 8, 2013 01:41 pm at 1:41 pm |
  25. OldAsDirt

    Yes, let's go out with the tepid support of the same ol' 5 or 6 who did so well by us in 'Stan.

    September 8, 2013 01:41 pm at 1:41 pm |
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