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The latest on the Syria situation.

Syrian Activist Looks Up: 'For the First Time Ever, There's a Glimmer of Hope'

Mouaz Moustafa has spent years advocating on Capitol Hill for the United States to get more involved in Syria.
Polly Irungu
Mouaz Moustafa has spent years advocating on Capitol Hill for the United States to get more involved in Syria.

President Trump's missile strike against Syria is the first time the U.S. took direct military action against the Assad regime since the civil war began there in 2011. But some Syrians have been asking for more U.S. involvement for some time.

Mouaz Moustafa is one of the most vocal—and now, he feels that he's finally been heard.

Moustafa is the director of the Syrian Emergency Task Force. He's an American who was born in Syria and came to the U.S. with his family as a child. When the war began, he started lobbying for support for the rebel factions fighting Assad's government. He famously helped sneak Senator John McCain into Syria in 2013 to meet with rebel leaders.

He sat down with Michel Martin on Saturday to speak about how Syrians like him are reacting to the strike.

Interview Highlights

On his reaction to Trump's missile strike against Syria

My reaction—and I can say that this speaks to the reaction of my friends inside the country and others—is that honestly, they are thankful for this president for taking action in response to the chemical weapons attack done by the Assad regime against children. And I think that we are all urgently calling to move to end the killing once and for all in Syria.

On if he's disappointed that Obama didn't take action

I'm incredibly disappointed in President Obama and his administration. We spent countless hours at the National Security Council and we had been begging—this is a time before ISIS or Al-Qaeda existed in Syria—begging for greater leadership, for stronger action in Syria that can help bring a political solution to the conflict. And I can tell you that this president learned in three months a lesson that his predecessor did not learn in six years.

On how he knows that this is anything more than a one-off reaction

Look, I don't know exactly what the strategy for this president is. But what I do know is that the Assad regime only understands that he cannot kill people if there is a credible threat of force. For six years, the dictator of Damascus has understood that there is no accountability—that he can act with impunity, using chemical weapons multiple times. And now that punitive action was taken for the use of it, I think that is the right approach with this dictator.

On what his network of Assad supporters of Assad is saying

First of all, across the board, everyone that we spoke to has said that what happened—the chemical weapons strike against civilians in Khan Shaykuhn and Idlib—was abhorrent, it was horrible. This was, again, even from loyalists that were reporting. They were shocked that the United States actually acted—that someone in the international community actually did something. They thought that it would be, again, more statements, but hollow statements, with no action behind it.

On what next and if he thinks there'll be more airstrikes

We have never wished that the United States commit troops to this fight. When I moved to the United States, I moved to Arkansas. I had many friends that served in the United States Army. I know the sacrifices. I know the people that came back losing limbs and people that lost lives. I understand, and I don't want American troops to go to Syria, to fight someone else's war.

What we do want is a political transition, and a real one—one that has an enforcement mechanism that would end the killing in Syria and end this horrendous slaughter that has been going on for way too long.

On what's his state of mind at the moment

You know, if you asked me a week ago, I would tell you how incredibly depressed I am, as many other Syrians were, at seeing another chemical weapons attack, seeing this violence going unabated, the slaughter in Syria continuing while the world watches or maybe makes some statements. I've learned not to get my hopes up when it comes to Syria.

But for the first time ever, there's a glimmer of hope that maybe the international community will wake up. That maybe with this punitive strike, it can sort of revitalize the United States and its allies to take Russia to the negotiating table and to lay out a settlement strategy. To bring an end to this war. And I can only pray for that.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Michel Martin is the weekend host of All Things Considered, where she draws on her deep reporting and interviewing experience to dig in to the week's news. Outside the studio, she has also hosted "Michel Martin: Going There," an ambitious live event series in collaboration with Member Stations.
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