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. one11one

    We are being lied to, just like with Benghazi.

    September 8, 2013 10:49 am at 10:49 am |
  2. davenyusa

    'We have plenty of support,' WH says
    Uhm, no.

    September 8, 2013 10:49 am at 10:49 am |
  3. bence

    The White House says it has plenty of support. I do NOT believe that there is any anyone that would help us very much. They are lying before they even get started. Any of them people that is for this shouldn't be put back in office. That is if there is anything left after this big e like WW111

    September 8, 2013 10:49 am at 10:49 am |
  4. Randall

    "Common sense" is precisely the kind of thinking that is exploited in committing a false flag attack.

    I can't wait for these fools to get shot down in Congress. They are really making themselves look bad.

    September 8, 2013 10:50 am at 10:50 am |
  5. Roberto

    Obama is NOT listening to his employers. Say NO to intervention into Syria.

    September 8, 2013 10:50 am at 10:50 am |
  6. rschier

    Lies, lies, and more lies. Besides, "support" is besides the point – they do not have any of OUR support. Who is
    the wet-behind-the-ears mama's boy ? Something about that face that looks like it needs contact with brass knuckles....

    September 8, 2013 10:51 am at 10:51 am |
  7. Gyrogearloose

    It's time for the rest of the world to step up to the plate. If they won't, we shouldn't.

    September 8, 2013 10:51 am at 10:51 am |
  8. Name Jonathan

    The US can pull this off without supporting the opposition outright. They just need to bomb some key locations. Like most of the mideast Syria is a collection of religious factions. The rebels are not one cohesive group. So if the US provides too much support to that side then they are furthering the agenda of some groups they'd rather not support.

    September 8, 2013 10:52 am at 10:52 am |
  9. howmchbscnutak

    McDonough said it’s “common sense” ....Those words " common sense" do not belong in any sentence that includes this administration. This is empty suit armature hour at its finest. We have no business being in syria unless they are wanting to create another chaotic wasteland, which seems to be oboozo's specialty.

    September 8, 2013 10:53 am at 10:53 am |
  10. freedomluchador

    A good friend from Mexico (Not illegal just visiting and shopping) was telling me the US is the most communist country in the world... After a good thought about food stamps, unemployment pay, food stamps, free "healthy"lunch at schools, subsidies for all the industries, technocrats, bureaucrats, excessive salaries and retirements for federal, state and city employees, a dictatorial executive, a police state with thousands of laws ready to fry you in jail etc... HE IS RIGHT!

    September 8, 2013 10:53 am at 10:53 am |
  11. Timewire

    What support??! One look at the comments here and you can tell no one supports this.

    September 8, 2013 10:54 am at 10:54 am |
  12. Ben Coates

    There was support for Iraq. Remember how many UN resolutions Bush waited through?

    September 8, 2013 10:54 am at 10:54 am |
  13. jamie

    "Common sense" but not exact proof. USA STAY OUT OF SYRIA PERIOD. Obama is twisting verbiage around to make it sound acceptable. Fast and Furious, NSA,CIA ...... Obama, no one believes you

    September 8, 2013 10:55 am at 10:55 am |
  14. Skorpio

    During the Russian invasion of Afghanistan, the Taliban (Mujadeen back then) "planted" evidence of atrocities committed by the Mujadeen against their own people as if they were done by Russians in order to blame Russia and generate global condemn against them. The same Muslim MO applies today, Russians do not blame Al-Assad ENTIRELY for the atrocities committed because they know is part of the same Islamic strategy to manipulate world opinion, it is more plausible that Al-Assad's dissidents were the ones responsible for the murders and committed them to blame him. It is common in Islam to sacrifice members of their own family in order to destroy the opponent, as an example, mothers of suicide bombers when they are interviewed, they always say they wish they could have more sons to send them as suicide attackers to kill the biggest number of people.

    September 8, 2013 10:55 am at 10:55 am |
  15. ThreRealist II

    When the Federals start using the term “common sense” , it always turns out that in the end the American public gets crewed over , AGAIN!

    September 8, 2013 10:55 am at 10:55 am |
  16. bence

    I have already lost my freedom of speech on this

    September 8, 2013 10:55 am at 10:55 am |
  17. navaJohn

    Fine. But then get the heck out of Syria altogether. No sides. No humanitarian help unless it includes BOTH sides in the conflict.

    September 8, 2013 10:55 am at 10:55 am |
  18. Dan

    Amanpour's great interview of the Syrian ambassador tells the entire story. She asks him the difficult question would Syria turn over its chemical weapons. He changed the subject, rather than answering the question.

    Hit Syria hard. Take out all their air power.

    If I were at an airfield or Syrian AA gun today; I'd slip away tonight.

    Obama supporter-pacifist

    September 8, 2013 10:55 am at 10:55 am |
  19. frank

    The "support" is in the mind of Kerry and Obama, not the overwhelming majority of WE THE PEOPLE who are you boss! Stand down on attacking Syria.

    September 8, 2013 10:55 am at 10:55 am |
  20. Michael Kaye

    The country we should bomb is Saudi Arabia. All of the muslim problems come out of Saudi Arabia. They are extreme and they are pushing their extremism on the rest of the middle east.

    Most of the 9/11 terrorists were Saudi Arabians. Why didm't we bomb them?

    September 8, 2013 10:56 am at 10:56 am |
  21. cbp

    Interesting responses from people. No one seems to address the use of poison gas which was not used in other countries. Assad has the opportunity to speak out about this issue. He knows that people were killed and he is playing games with the whole issue. If his military used this gas without his permission he has had the opportunity to say so. He could "punish" those who did the deed. Certainly his father would have done so. Syria has fought under the radar.

    When President Assad took power many thought that Syria would turn the corner and become a force for peace. After all Assad was a western trained physician married to a British citizen. Did those interested in war and keeping the population under their rule win out?

    September 8, 2013 10:56 am at 10:56 am |
  22. GaHunter123

    In the absence of hard evidence of who actually used chemical weapons, we are going to rely on Obama's "common sense".

    September 8, 2013 10:56 am at 10:56 am |
  23. Chuck

    “Now do we have irrefutable, beyond reasonable doubt evidence?" <- Uhmm shouldn't you before you start killing people and possibly starting WWIII??? Jacking up our oil prices and spending taxpayer money in a war the public doesn't want???

    September 8, 2013 10:58 am at 10:58 am |
  24. Constantine16621990

    I say; lets kill'em all!!!

    September 8, 2013 10:58 am at 10:58 am |
  25. Stephen

    I don't know a single person who supports Obama's idea of attacking Syria. Everyone is 100% OPPOSED to this new war.

    September 8, 2013 10:58 am at 10:58 am |
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