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. Richard

    In war, truth is the first casualty.

    Attributed to many people over the last 2500 years. But always true.

    Or for something even darker:

    "Naturally the common people don't want war: Neither in Russia, nor in England, nor for that matter in Germany. That is understood. But, after all, IT IS THE LEADERS of the country who determine the policy and it is always a simple matter to drag the people along, whether it is a democracy, or a fascist dictatorship, or a parliament, or a communist dictatorship. Voice or no voice, the people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. That is easy. All you have to do is TELL THEM THEY ARE BEING ATTACKED, and denounce the peacemakers for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger. IT WORKS THE SAME IN ANY COUNTRY."

    –Goering at the Nuremberg Trials

    September 8, 2013 03:52 pm at 3:52 pm |
  2. Hal

    obama is a disaster.

    September 8, 2013 03:53 pm at 3:53 pm |
  3. Karl

    Mr. President, I don't care what kind of backing you have from other nations. You are the President of the United States, not the world. You should limit your stand in this kind of situation and let the UN decide on what should happen to Syria. The only backing you should be concerned about is the American people. And from what I have seen in the past two weeks, the majority of the people do not want to get involved with Syria.

    September 8, 2013 03:56 pm at 3:56 pm |
  4. bflat879

    Given this administrations aversion to telling the truth, I think we should wait for the U.N. report.

    September 8, 2013 04:11 pm at 4:11 pm |
  5. Darn

    I say those that vote yes on attacking Syria be the first troops to hit the Syrian shore. Put your vote where your mouth is... or don't take us to war. We are getting tired of this.

    September 8, 2013 04:20 pm at 4:20 pm |
  6. Mensa Graham

    That is what a progressive gets for thinking they know what "common sense" is: wrong!

    How about common sense that it was the rebels in order to get the anointed one to act as the Al-Qaeda Air Force?

    September 8, 2013 04:23 pm at 4:23 pm |
  7. Anonymous

    The fact that we don't have un support clearly tells you that there is much unclear information we really don't know for sure who was behind the chemical weapons and once the full investigation is found it should be a unanimous decision on what steps should and will occur !! Without a doubt chemical weapons were used. ... Having said that if anyone thinks at this point it will be easy to locate and stop all of them with air strikes alone is fooling themselves... And to say we will bomb them. ? What do we gain ? Oh wait we look like we are strong blowing things up?
    . Our goverment needs to realize that threatening to attack without the facts alone sends a message that Obama has an arterial motive ! And to make matters worse , does the USA think that dropping bombs will prevent putting us at additional risk ? Russia, china already is ready to defend Syria because of Obama's rushing to bomb despite clear information! Without a doubt us bombing will create another long war .... There is a bigger issue here on what steps to take and how to deal with this. This is not something anyone should be taken lightly and if and when there is more information only then should a plan be put in place on how to deal with it.... OBAMA needs to listen to UN and more importantly our own country ! Having said that I would not doubt for 1 second that his red line embarrassed quote is now being used to scheme a way into the financial issues we have duque strain , debt cieling and budget ... You see if we go to war he has all kinds of excuses to why he needs more money ... !

    September 8, 2013 04:27 pm at 4:27 pm |
  8. Alex

    "This is not Iraq or Afghanistan. This is not Libya"

    Yes, it's worse. What a messed up region. The U.S. can't help Islamic Fundamentalist countries. They're just to messed up.

    September 8, 2013 04:31 pm at 4:31 pm |
  9. Candyce

    Is that the same common sense used to explain "it's because of the video?"

    September 8, 2013 04:33 pm at 4:33 pm |
  10. Steve

    "This is not a court of law."

    This claiming the authority for mass murder. The argument for mass murder should be easy and not require proof like in courts of law. Mass murder is the engine that moves the world. The world always needs more mass murder.

    And we should not put mass murder on hold because of LOGIC and REASON such as done in courts of law.

    September 8, 2013 04:34 pm at 4:34 pm |
  11. JMartin

    Actually, common sense would suggest that it was the rebels that did it. Why would the Assad government, which has recently been retaking ground from the rebels, carry out a chemical attack while UN weapons inspectors are in the country? That would just give the US a pretext to intervene on the rebels behalf. On the other hand, the rebels would have every reason to stage this sort of provocation–having the US intercede could easily swing the tide of battle in their favor.

    September 8, 2013 04:35 pm at 4:35 pm |
  12. Name

    The Syrian rebels are Al Nusra Front terrorists linked to al Quida. They are supported by Saudi Arabi. They are not even Syrian. This mess is not not just a civil war but an invasion by outside terror groups to fight a proxy war between Saudi Arabia and Iran. Does the U.S. really need to inject themselves into this mess?

    September 8, 2013 04:41 pm at 4:41 pm |
  13. Julian Hill

    Absurd!It is by no means common sense that the Assad regime carried out this attack!Assad was WINNING-why would he launch an attack using the very means Obama had indicated would be met with opposition??Isnt it in fact common sense that the Syrian rebels,who are losing the conflict,would have been the ones with nothing to lose and everything to gain by employing chemical weapons and then blaming the Assad regime,something they have done once already?Honestly ,you people in the old media invite contempt with these lame assertions-think they might have something to do with your declining ratings?

    September 8, 2013 04:46 pm at 4:46 pm |
  14. wodun

    The Obama administration is claiming that because the Syrian army used chemical weapons that Assad had to have ordered it; it is the common sense conclusion. Much like it is common sense that the IRS targeted Obama's political opponents for political persecution on Obama's orders.

    September 8, 2013 04:58 pm at 4:58 pm |
  15. John Poland

    Common Sense would make one believe since Assad IS Winning the war..Why would he do something that would Invite intervention that may alter that...Where as the Militants trying to overthrow him would LOVE intervention to ASSIT THEM in turning the tide Againt Assad... But Hey This President has shown he has NO IDEA what Common Sense IS !!!

    September 8, 2013 05:08 pm at 5:08 pm |
  16. anon

    Common sense does not exist in this administration.

    September 8, 2013 05:09 pm at 5:09 pm |
  17. anon

    This administration has no common sense.

    September 8, 2013 05:10 pm at 5:10 pm |
  18. Swededawg

    Where was Obama when 100,000 Syrians have been killed. Your just as dead if by a bullet, explosion or gas. This is contrived. He has been telling the Al Qaeda for months that we will act if gas is used. Tell me, who ultimately benefits if gas is used – Al Qaeda. So now our incompetent president is now willing to be the Air Force for Al Qaeda – the ones who murdered Americans on 2/11. This is crazy. Can you imagine our military assisting Al Qaeda? Our military must be furious. This civil ware between two terrorist groups does present a threat to the US. We will be threatened if we insert our selves in it. Stay out of it.

    September 8, 2013 05:13 pm at 5:13 pm |
  19. Just

    Common sense from the WH has never been common before? I don't believe it has occurred now.

    September 8, 2013 05:14 pm at 5:14 pm |
  20. Rafael

    It all started with a missile strike on Afghanistan, we seem to forget that. Going to war with Syria is a mistake, we have nothing to prove.

    September 8, 2013 05:25 pm at 5:25 pm |
  21. Name

    Both Iraq and Afghanistan had UN resolutions and congressional approval, approved by the democrats.

    September 8, 2013 05:27 pm at 5:27 pm |
  22. Barry

    How can these clowns keep their lies straight, if there is anyone we should be attacking, it would be the Muslim brotherhood terrorists, if we help anyone it should be Assad.

    September 8, 2013 05:36 pm at 5:36 pm |
  23. bertamus

    “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.”
    – He can say this with a straight face and actually not be lying about it. BUT We all know what will happen next if the WH decides to go ahead with the strike: A hot conflict with Iran and maybe even Russia. Who knows what China's going to do, they'll probably attack Japan as they have wanted to for a long time now. Anyways, sure, this guy can go on national TV and say this stuff, but informed people know what will happen.

    September 8, 2013 05:43 pm at 5:43 pm |
  24. Name Jim

    Why is this president determined to engage the United States in yet another war.

    September 8, 2013 05:44 pm at 5:44 pm |
  25. frank preiss

    common sense...we don't need no stinkin common sense. what does that have to do with this administration?

    September 8, 2013 05:46 pm at 5:46 pm |
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