White House: “Common Sense” Points To Assad

Your News Companion by Ben Mathis-Lilley
Sept. 8 2013 12:24 PM

White House: “Common-Sense Test” And Not “Irrefutable” Evidence Hold Assad Responsible

White House Chief of Staff Dennis McDonough went on the Sunday talk shows to drum up support for what he called a “targeted, limited effort” that will change “the momentum on the battle field” in Syria. Yet he also acknowledged on CNN that the evidence that ties Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to the Aug. 21 attack outside Damascus that allegedly killed 1,429 people has more to do with a “common-sense test” rather than “irrefutable, beyond-a-reasonable-doubt evidence.”

"We've seen the video proof of the outcome of those attacks,” McDonough said. “All of that leads to a quite strong common-sense test irrespective of the intelligence that suggests that the regime carried this out. Now do we have a picture or do we have irrefutable beyond-a-reasonable-doubt evidence? This is not a court of law and intelligence does not work that way.” Meanwhile, McDonough also emphasized on NBC that “nobody is rebutting the intelligence; nobody doubts the intelligence.”

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The answer highlights how the White House still has not shown the public a concrete piece of intelligence that directly connect Assad’s regime to the alleged chemical weapons attack, as the Associated Press points out in a detailed story. Meanwhile, Syria and Russia insist it was the rebels who used chemical weapons, a charge they have also failed to prove with any actual evidence. Although some experts insist only the government forces could have carried out such a large strike, “What's missing from the public record is direct proof, rather than circumstantial evidence, tying this to the regime,” notes the AP.

Beyond the hard evidence for a strike, McDonough also told NBC that it wasn’t just about punishing Assad for using chemical weapons. By striking Syria, the United States would also be sending a message to Iranian leaders that they should know there are consequences to developing nuclear weapons. “This is an opportunity to be bold with the Iranians,” McDonough said.

McDonough appeared on the Sunday talk shows a day before President Obama plans to hold interviews with ABC, NBC, CBS, PBS, CNN and Fox to make his administration’s case for a strike. The president is then scheduled to give a primetime address from the White House on Tuesday.

Daniel Politi has been contributing to Slate since 2004 and wrote the "Today's Papers" column from 2006 to 2009. You can follow him on Twitter @dpoliti.