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. mrkhrrs

    Instead of complaining about this in the comments section of a news article contact your rep and make sure they know that you don't support military action against Syria.

    September 8, 2013 10:59 am at 10:59 am |
  2. Michael Kaye

    Dear CBP,

    I agree with you on Syria. But the same rules should apply to Israel. We borrow money from China to give Israel over 3 billion dollars a year and all they said during the Bush Presidency is that they have President Bush in their back pocket.

    Why no tyranny in Syria, but yes in Palestine?

    September 8, 2013 11:00 am at 11:00 am |
  3. CmonMann

    It's not like Iraq or Afghanistan? Yep, much more like Vienam, right John Kerry?

    September 8, 2013 11:01 am at 11:01 am |
  4. rla

    When an administration is asking for war powers on the basis of emotion only and not on national interest because he shot off his mouth the answer is NO!

    September 8, 2013 11:01 am at 11:01 am |
  5. Failure again

    Obama is a liar and we are going to be in deep water if he attacks. Maybe this is what he wants to totally bankrupt and disable America!

    September 8, 2013 11:01 am at 11:01 am |
  6. Kelley

    Hey Obama and Congress-"NO" to bombing Syria, "NO" to war with Russia, "NO" to World War III.

    September 8, 2013 11:01 am at 11:01 am |
  7. Just a thought

    IF the U.S. becomes involved in another war, and I know this will upset a lot of folks, the draft should be restarted. I truly believe that is only fair to the troops that have been redeplyed so much they can hardly stand up.

    September 8, 2013 11:02 am at 11:02 am |
  8. Trery

    Yes, plenty of support, as in White House, or Obama jammas..... NOT the American People.

    September 8, 2013 11:03 am at 11:03 am |
  9. wasserball

    any attack will surely kill innocent bystanders. Why not send in a drone to Assad's palace and save the day? The USA has put a bounty on Saddam, so why not Assad? Is there an agreement among head of states that they don't target each other but only civilians?

    September 8, 2013 11:04 am at 11:04 am |
  10. Sircules

    None of the posters seems to actually the dynamics at play. Here is the cold, hard truth. The best outcome in Syria is that the winner be a severely degraded Assad who is forced to operate a coalition government. This will neuter him and keep the rebels out of the palace. In the interim we want both sides to kill one another as much as possible. The chemical attack has provided the US with a wonderful opportunity to destroy assets in Syria with are jointly linked to Hamas and Iran. The bombing should not be used to tip the civil war but rather to harm Hamas and Iranian interests. In handled correctly, the US can emerge the big winner by weakening and re-arranging the key players in the region.

    September 8, 2013 11:04 am at 11:04 am |
  11. Njk

    This is not a very wise idea- We will bury ourselves in too deep- Stay out of Syria- Lets help our people in the U.S that are struggling.

    September 8, 2013 11:05 am at 11:05 am |
  12. C Smith

    Frank Gaffney in an October 22, 2012 column "The real reason behind Benghazigate" explains the dynamics and logistics of the media-complicit cover-up now known as "Benghazigate":

    "The evidence suggests that the Obama administration has not simply been engaging, legitimating, enriching and emboldening Islamists who have now taken over or are ascendant in much of the Middle East. Starting in March 2011, when American diplomat Christopher Stevens was designated the liaison to the "opposition" in Libya, the Obama administration has been arming them, including jihadists like Abdelhakim Belhadj, the leader of the al Qaeda franchise known as the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group."

    "Once Qaddafi was overthrown, Chris Stevens was appointed as the ambassador to the new Libya run by Belhadj and his friends.... It now appears that Amb. Stevens was there [Benghazi] – on a particularly risky day.... for another priority mission: sending arms recovered from the former regime's stocks to the "opposition" in Syria.... known to include al Qaeda and other shariah-supremacist groups...."

    Obama literally raced to the cameras to take credit for killing al-Qaeda notable Osama bin Laden just hours after his body bobbed beneath the wake of the USS Carl Vinson. On a sequent campaign event, he reminded his admirers: "I promised to go after al Qaeda and bin Laden, and we did it," and during the final presidential debate he took credit for having "decimated" "Al Qaeda's core leadership."

    Yet, evidence now suggests that the administration was concurrently coordinating a covert "fast and furious" "gun-running" operation aiding the very terrorist organization it claimed to have decimated by killing Osama bin Laden.

    September 8, 2013 11:05 am at 11:05 am |
  13. Tbirds

    An overwhelming number of Americans are against involvement in Syria. You don't help people that want to kill you

    September 8, 2013 11:05 am at 11:05 am |
  14. Dave

    So, this is how the next World War begins...

    September 8, 2013 11:05 am at 11:05 am |
  15. surfsock1

    They are patyhological liars. Even when confronted with their lies they continue. It's really sad.

    September 8, 2013 11:05 am at 11:05 am |
  16. Mia

    For once I would like the governement to listen to its people rather than the jokers in office who have ruined our economy, job markets, international relationships.....etc. If a country doesn't want our help, why do we feel the need to "set an example"? This is not our war....this is not our problem. The United States governement needs to learn to LEAD by example and for once learn to play nice on the playground. The other children who lead their countries see no urgency to strike.... so why play big brother? Let it be known....the people of the United States, who also pay your salaries, do not want war with yet another country! Let them figure this out on their own.

    September 8, 2013 11:06 am at 11:06 am |
  17. DeeTee

    Where is the hard evidence?
    What did the UN's chemical analysis reveal?
    Was it clean, industrial, military-grade sarin?
    Or was it dirty, homemade sarin?
    Where are the photos of the rockets used to deliver the gas?

    Common sense? Really, McDonough?
    Common sense says that Assad would NOT have used chem weapons
    That would not be common sense.

    Assad has billions in military weapons. Planes, tanks, artillery.
    He has leveled entire neighborhoods already. Why go chemical now?
    That might bring in the US, and Assad would get his butt kicked.
    That would not be common sense.

    The rebels are losing badly and are desperate.
    The rebels have many connections to the Syrian military, some actually are ex-soldiers.
    MANY rebels have had access to Assad's chem weapons.
    Would be EASY for them to "frame Assad" with his own chemical weapons.
    Would be COMMON SENSE to use those chem weapons AFTER THE UN INSPECTORS ARRIVED,
    in order to trigger Obama's ludicrously stupid "red line" threats of US involvement.
    Would be COMMON SENSE to sacrifice your own women and children to bring in
    your "big brother to beat up your bully".

    If the WH wants to point to common sense, THAT points to the REBELS.

    September 8, 2013 11:06 am at 11:06 am |
  18. Common Sense

    Actually, common sense says that the "rebels" did it, they have been caught with sarin gas cannisters before, and have the most to gain for dragging the US into the conflict. Assad has absolutely no motive, and he is not suicidal, and therefore common sense would tell us Assad has no reason to cross Obama's "red line", and drag the US into the fight.

    September 8, 2013 11:06 am at 11:06 am |
  19. Bill Smells

    When politicians use the term "common sense" they are insulting common sense.

    September 8, 2013 11:07 am at 11:07 am |
  20. nonyabidnes2

    What is "moral support" to a country that appears to have lost their morals? Nothing more than lip-service. All of these countries saying ther needs to be a "strong international response" But only agree that some action needs to be done. Why not let the UN, Arab League and the European Union take action? The US can't afford being the POLICE of the world. Time for some other country to step up..

    September 8, 2013 11:07 am at 11:07 am |
  21. bill pike

    U.N. says no-the Amerrican public says no–but susan rice will now tell us the truth about Libya I mean Syria.

    September 8, 2013 11:07 am at 11:07 am |
  22. yago

    Plenty of Support? From Who? Lockheed Martin? General Dynamics? Halliburton? The only support WH is getting are from those that live and profit out of war, that have kidnapped our Democracy, that have put their people on Congress and The Supreme Court. That only support the WH is having came from the same poeple Eisenhower warned us back in 1961, The Military (Congress) Industrial Complex

    September 8, 2013 11:08 am at 11:08 am |
  23. Chris

    Now we're finally being told the "proof" is "common sense"? WTH is this President trying to pull off? Why should he expect ANY support from Congress or the American Taxpayers when he's planning to bomb a country's government in support of the Muslim Brotherhood, a group known for terror as shown by their execution of government soldiers? This President will go down in History as the worst President in U.S. History, a President who seems intent on tossing every right of a U.S. Citizen, a President who seems intent on taking more and more money from working Americans and handing it off to those who voted for him, a President who supports Muslims!

    September 8, 2013 11:08 am at 11:08 am |
  24. larry

    The man has just been caught in too many lies to believe him.

    Also given his performance on all domestic failures with race relations (starting a race war),budget, debt and jobs. He just can't be trusted. He is in fact the countries worst President.

    September 8, 2013 11:09 am at 11:09 am |
  25. Bill

    I thought Obama won the Nobel Peace Prize before he even took office or did anything. Syria should be a piece of cake for him to handle.

    September 8, 2013 11:09 am at 11:09 am |
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