Obama administration officials have rejected comparisons between the buildup to the 2003 Iraq war and the military strikes in Syria the administration is currently contemplating.
“What we saw in that circumstance was an administration that was searching high and low to produce evidence to justify a military invasion, an open-ended military invasion of another country, with the final goal being regime change,” White House Deputy Press Secretary Josh Earnest said of Iraq on Wednesday.
On Syria, Earnest told reporters President Obama “has been very clear that he is not contemplating an open-ended military action,” and again drew a distinction between the two scenarios.
“What we’re talking about here is something that’s very discrete and limited,” said Earnest.
State Department Deputy Spokeswoman Marie Harf also rejected any comparisons between the debate over intervention in Syria and the Iraq war.
“I do not think there are any legitimate comparisons between what we were talking about in Iraq and what we’re talking about today,” Harf told reporters.
Harf said that the discussion over whether intelligence showed Assad was personally tied to the chemical weapons attack and the discussions about whether Iraq had weapons of mass destruction are vastly different.
“Nobody needs an intelligence community assessment to know that chemical weapons were used [in Syria],” said Harf. “In Iraq, we were waiting for an intelligence community assessment to determine whether they even existed.”
She added that both the circumstances on the ground and the Obama administration’s goals, if it were to launch strikes against Syria, are in sharp contrast to the Bush administration’s intervention in Iraq.
“What the intelligence is looking at, the situation and the potential responses are of such a grossly different nature,” said Harf. “Nobody’s talking about boots on the ground in Syria; nobody’s talking about regime change through military options.”
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When challenged by reporters over whether the faulty intelligence used to justify the Iraq war has set the bar higher for justification for military action in Syria, Harf again said that the situations are not compatible.
“I think we’ve been clear in this administration that we are not going to repeat the same mistakes of the Iraq war,” she said. “That’s why we ended the war. Period.”