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. Justin smithers

    Hmmm, they just happen to use the same type of rockets and we have videos of people dead or dying from unknown causes. Plus, if we don't act NOW the price of oil will go up. I don't just feels right, you know? So much for common sense. Bush had much more Intel from the international community and he was lynched in the media because it was "all about the oil" (and not about saving millions of people from Saddam's torture rooms or chemical attacks) and that nukes weren't found and the chemical weapons had been moved across the border before the UN inspectors were allowed in ( the Left's definition of WMDs in Bush's day refused to recognize chemical weapons as Weapons of Mass Destruction – only yellow cake or nuclear warheads fit the Left's bill). Now Obama has less to go on than the National Enquirer and we are being told that it is common sense to attack a sovereign nation plus it's the right thing to do, etc., etc. The double standards employed here just make you sick. All Obama wants is for ANYONE else to come on board with him so that a) he can justify some kind of consensus, and b) he has someone else to blame it on and come out of this situation smelling like a rose no matter which way it turns out. Now that, to me, is common sense.

    September 8, 2013 10:25 am at 10:25 am |
  2. Just me

    There is no such thing as a limited war. Period. We attack, we better be ready for a very ugly war. And we are definitely not ready for that.

    September 8, 2013 10:26 am at 10:26 am |
  3. Ivan Libya

    I, like many others, found the "common sense" quote hilarious. I would love to see that being used in a court of law. Your honor, we don't, and didn't, feel the need to present actual evidence since we felt that it was "common sense" the defendant committed the crime.

    September 8, 2013 10:27 am at 10:27 am |
  4. kenema

    You should have reasonable doubt evidence before you go to war.

    September 8, 2013 10:28 am at 10:28 am |
  5. No Go

    They have plenty of support from the wrong people.

    September 8, 2013 10:28 am at 10:28 am |
  6. hurryupnovember2012

    So, is McDonough ready to send his son to Syria to risk his life?

    September 8, 2013 10:30 am at 10:30 am |
  7. Ron

    These fools have lost the support of family who traditionally votes Democratic, time to bring some balance to our massive government and vote straight Republican next year...just like we did at the last mid-terms after Obamacare was forced on us. Our President looks like a fool.

    September 8, 2013 10:30 am at 10:30 am |
  8. larkwoodgirl

    While true it is not Iraq or Afghanistan, it is the same hopeless endeavor for the US. We need to stay out of it. Apparently the rest of the world has to "common sense" to stay out of it. We should do the same.

    September 8, 2013 10:30 am at 10:30 am |
  9. Jim in PA

    "This is not your father's Oldsmobile." Which, of course, means that it really is.

    September 8, 2013 10:31 am at 10:31 am |
  10. Our Democracy

    Why get involved now??? Nothing was done in Rwanda, Bosnia, Armenia, the Congo or Darfur. It's not our problem, let them kill themselves on the name of Islam... it in no way affects our way of life nor our everyday. The middle-east should police themselves. Let Russia, China or North Korea intervene.

    September 8, 2013 10:31 am at 10:31 am |
  11. common man

    Why don't we base life and death decisions on facts, not "common sense?" If the WH had the goods, we wouldn't need theoretical constructs to support bombing. Show me the "slam dunk" intel and I'll support attacking a country which has not attacked us. Common sense tells me you can't.

    September 8, 2013 10:32 am at 10:32 am |
  12. popeye1128

    Let the "international community" pay for it if everyone is so behind it.

    September 8, 2013 10:32 am at 10:32 am |
  13. Jim in PA

    I knew as soon as Bush Jr. lied our way to war in Iraq, that nobody would ever trust the White House again on such matters. How true.

    September 8, 2013 10:32 am at 10:32 am |
  14. Dark tater

    plenty of support from whom? ....your people? I think NOT!
    We as a group pretty much distrusts our representatives and the WH knows this. Obama've finally caved in.

    September 8, 2013 10:32 am at 10:32 am |
  15. jay

    Thier running out of people to march out there to make thier point. Whos next? Valeri Jarett? If you want to send them a message, Get on facebook or tweeter or just a good old email .

    September 8, 2013 10:32 am at 10:32 am |
  16. Akos Kovach

    I recognize the overwhelming political sentiment of this Administration is to go to war against Syria. The as-yet inexplicable bedfellows that have joined the chorus – including Boehner, McCain and Graham cannot provide any evidence who deployed chemical weapons. This Administration will select our allies in this mockery of defending the 'red line'. The Shi'ites from Iran? The Taliban Afghanistan? Or Al-Qaeda? Stand tall Paul Gosar and Jim Inhofe, we must not repeat past failures. Stop and think -the last time Great Britain was NOT an ally with us in battle was 1812, please wake up America ~

    September 8, 2013 10:32 am at 10:32 am |
  17. dennis in ohio

    Why should we believe anyone in ths group of pathological liars? Common sense, indeed – this is something that is very short supply across the entire Administration, and indeed our Congress at every level. No good can come from getting involved in someone else's civil war, when our own troop morale is the lowest I have ever seen it and we have driven away every friend and ally we used to count on for support. I run into no one who wants us involved in Syria and our so-called "representatives" in Congress might well heed this or face the consequences in November.

    September 8, 2013 10:33 am at 10:33 am |
  18. mortimer zilch

    the whole attack plan is both EXTENSIVE and FINANCED entirely by Saudia Arabia...which makes the US ARMED FORCES nothing more than a mercenary army for use in an intra-Islamist civil war. period. fact, THAT's common sense.

    September 8, 2013 10:34 am at 10:34 am |
  19. Justin smithers

    Hey! Talking about double standards, why is my comment "awaiting moderation" when it is written below the posting window that "Comments are not pre-screened before they post."? Or do they just mean that I can't preview my comment before I post it? Now I did mention Obama in a negative light...

    September 8, 2013 10:34 am at 10:34 am |
  20. Dick LaTrick

    YOU need to convince the -> AMERICAN PEOPLE<- Mr Obama!

    September 8, 2013 10:34 am at 10:34 am |
  21. Conservatives Suck!

    Obama sucks and he has no major support from the people, congress or the world. If you go on, I will fully support IMPEACHMENT. No more wars.

    September 8, 2013 10:34 am at 10:34 am |
  22. Michael Kaye

    Why does Israel get to treat the Palestinians with impunity. During the Gaza invasion, the Israelis used white phosphorus, yes it was reported on CNN, Fox, and every news channel. White Phosphorous is an international banned chemical, and there was no repercussion.

    September 8, 2013 10:34 am at 10:34 am |
  23. Warren Bonesteel

    So, we went from 'No True American can doubt the evidence against Assad, to anyone who doubts the administration's version of events is a fool and an idiot who lacks 'common sense.'

    Sorry, Barry. Common sense tells me not to start WWIII based on suspect and fabricated evidence and a frame job. If we're going to start WWIII, let's at least try start do it over someone's actual guilt, instead of based upon 'prosecutorial misconduct,' shall we?

    September 8, 2013 10:34 am at 10:34 am |
  24. Hcalla

    Word play. If other countries support list them next to those that do not. Better yet let them do something. No Syrian Military action!

    September 8, 2013 10:34 am at 10:34 am |
  25. Just

    The White House politicians are lying again...their lips are moving.

    September 8, 2013 10:34 am at 10:34 am |
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