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. mike kelley

    I say if they wanna kill their people let em. We need some sort of population control anyhow. And who are we to tell em that they cant do that? We dont need to be involved in foriegn affairs such as this. And spend millions of dollars to try and be the police of the world. If them fools come over here trying to hurt us then we give them the buisness but untill then its their country let them do what they want to their own people. Spend our millions on us and trying to get these gas prices down

    September 8, 2013 10:42 am at 10:42 am |
  2. do they know its football weekend?

    time to stop the free food flwing to those muslim countries, free food promoting men in dresses with towels on their heads and beards flowing is 1200 year old times....who is supporting that mentality?...

    September 8, 2013 10:43 am at 10:43 am |
  3. Lagos

    We had plenty of support in Afghanistan.

    September 8, 2013 10:43 am at 10:43 am |
  4. well

    three words; zionists, AIPAC, Israel.

    September 8, 2013 10:43 am at 10:43 am |
  5. Kola

    There will be USA elections for House and Senate in 2014. I would request all US citizens make a written note of how their elected representatives and senators vote on this Syrian question; with a view to removal of any that vote in favor of USA involvement in Syrian civil war.

    September 8, 2013 10:43 am at 10:43 am |
  6. tony

    Not only no, Hell No!

    September 8, 2013 10:44 am at 10:44 am |
  7. Constance Underfoot

    This isn't Iraq, or Afghanistan. Syria is a country with Assad fighting AlQueda. So whether they kill themselves via simple AK's or advanced neurological weapons makes what difference to America?

    If Obama want's to send a message to Iran, nuke Iran, or use FedEx. We don't need 75,000 plus American boots on the ground to take weapons from both Assad & the Rebels, who both have them, who have both used them, who both won't just give them up.

    September 8, 2013 10:44 am at 10:44 am |
  8. Isaiah

    This is what God revealed to the prophet Isaiah:

    “This message came to me concerning Damascus: ‘Look, Damascus will disappear! It will become a heap of ruins. The cities of Aroer will be deserted. Sheep will graze in the streets and lie down unafraid. There will be no one to chase them away. The fortified cities of Israel will also be destroyed, and the power of Damascus will end. The few left in Aram will share the fate of Israel’s departed glory,’ says the Lord Almighty.” Isaiah 17:1-3 (NLT)

    September 8, 2013 10:44 am at 10:44 am |
  9. Isaac

    I love how two people who have never truly "served" in the military are driving us into a war. Kerry the faux war hero, and McDonough, Mr. "Common Sense." Of course, it's not their kids that will be dying over there. I guarantee if a member of their family was in the military and actually had a chance of going to combat, they'd really rethink their war plans.

    September 8, 2013 10:44 am at 10:44 am |
  10. sean

    The all powerful driving force for all US wars is the Petro$. Everything else is smoke and mirrors. A very unpopular war is on the horizon and a cornered President could do anything. Finally the US population is beginning to realize how horrific a president Obama has been. I fully expect another 9-11 very soon bcs no other way the war mongers are going to be given support from a very upset populace. The powers that rise above Obama and all parties are not going to let Iran get away with not supporting the US dollar. Gaddafi died for his open defiance of the US dollar and so will anyone who opposes it. This is a big game for the big boys and most of us don't even come close to counting as a pawn

    September 8, 2013 10:45 am at 10:45 am |
  11. Tenie

    Then let those who would "support" us (code for you do it) lose some lives. This is a muslim issue, let the cowardly muslims take care of it.

    September 8, 2013 10:45 am at 10:45 am |
  12. Lee

    So let me get this straight. Our Nobel Peace Prize winning president wants to invade a third country... what am I missing?

    September 8, 2013 10:45 am at 10:45 am |
  13. Bama Boy

    McDonough is ON chemicals, the kind that make you hallucinate.

    September 8, 2013 10:46 am at 10:46 am |
  14. Pat

    Folks, keep a couple of things in mind. First, Obama does not care what you think. Second, Obama does not care what I think. Third, Obama does not care what the world thinks. Fourth, Obama is willing to kill your kids and mine for his party's political purposes. Fifth, Obama is an an inadequate leader who will get his butt whipped by Michelle if he is not careful!

    September 8, 2013 10:46 am at 10:46 am |
  15. John Deatherage

    This is not our fight. We should stay out of the Syrian civil war.

    September 8, 2013 10:46 am at 10:46 am |
  16. T E X A S

    Mr. President, we know what this is. We know we cannot change the outcome without massive involvement. We know small involvement leads to large involvement. We remember history. As gruesome as it may be...this is not our cross to bear.

    September 8, 2013 10:47 am at 10:47 am |
  17. Izzy

    Mr. President,

    Who exactly is going to pay for this war? If the Arab League will reimburse us 100% and participate or if this is a NATO operation, I could see the merits. The way it stands now is there is no winners. So why complicate the equation more just to divert attention to your failed economic policies?

    September 8, 2013 10:47 am at 10:47 am |
  18. duhtruth

    We have lots of support. Let's see, Biden, Kerry, McCain, Michelle, and Biden, McCain, Kerry and oh Graham and Kerry and the Joint Thieves of Staff ,

    September 8, 2013 10:48 am at 10:48 am |
  19. Paul B.

    Sure, it's common sense that Assad would commit suicide by using chemicals when he was already beginning to mop up the civil unrest. And by white house thinking, it makes no sense that the jihadists would piggyback on an Assad air raid with their own chemical mortar attack. Sure, Barry.

    September 8, 2013 10:48 am at 10:48 am |
  20. ptx

    He's using the "it's common sense" argument?? *facepalm*

    September 8, 2013 10:48 am at 10:48 am |
  21. Stephen

    The Bush administration lied about WMD's to gain support for a military invasion of IRAQ. The Obama administration has lied over and over again about everything including no new taxes and a huge phony story about a you-tube video inciting violence in Benghazi. Now the Obama administration is asking the American people to support a military strike to advance the cause of AL-Qaida in Syria. "Common sense" tells me to DOUBT EVERYTHING coming out of Washington, DC and the mainstream news media, so that's exactly what I do.

    September 8, 2013 10:48 am at 10:48 am |
  22. Obama is a Tyrant!

    Common sense would lead us to bring this (Obama) administration to trial for being the criminal element that it is. The "evidence" supporting Dear Leader's crimes far exceed anything this WH has to prove Assad gassed his own people. And how is it that we have conclusions about Assad, when we are still awaiting "all the evidence" in the Benghazi murders?

    BTW, for the liberals out there, how about asking Dear Leader where these (Syrian) chemical weapons originated. It would not be Sadam, now would it?

    Phony, feckless and very dangerous, this administration knows no limits when it comes to lying. Remember why we have a Second Amendment!

    September 8, 2013 10:48 am at 10:48 am |
  23. Dandude

    Fantastic , another war. Didn't this joker run on the promise of getting all our troops home?

    September 8, 2013 10:49 am at 10:49 am |
  24. Sven

    Wag the dog.

    September 8, 2013 10:49 am at 10:49 am |
  25. drag1

    attacking syria is not about saving lives , its about saving face. Obama, acceot the fact the majority of peolpe around the world are not sold on the idea that it was the syrian regime that carried out that attack With hundreds of criminal organizations fighting Assad, anyone of these could have mastered such an attack to frame the regime. Bombing a country without the un approval is illegal. Isn't it the American way that one is innocent until proven gulity, and not the other way around. So far its only the enemies of Assad that are backing the U.S. however they are not going to get involved militarily


    September 8, 2013 10:49 am at 10:49 am |
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