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Syrian Opposition Member Describes Mixed Reaction To U.S. Airstrike

KELLY MCEVERS, HOST:

We're going to hear now about two different reactions to the U.S. airstrikes in Syria last night. In Russia, an ally of the Syrian regime, there was surprise and condemnation - more on that in a few minutes. In Syria, people who oppose President Bashar al-Assad were also surprised that after six years of asking for the U.S. to punish Assad for atrocities against civilians, it finally happened.

I talked to Amr al-Azm about this. He's part of the opposition and a history professor at Shawnee State University in Ohio.

AMR AL-AZM: I've spent most of the morning conducting surveys of how people viewed this strike. And for the vast majority, they seemed to think that this was a good thing. They're very happy that it happened. But there's also a lot of concern - and rightly so - that this is a one-off and that this is really done more to sort of satisfy the administration's need to have appeared to have done something rather than to truly help. So there's a lot of cynicism with regards to the actual strike.

MCEVERS: Right.

AL-AZM: But at the end of the day, something is better than nothing. And it was a major psychological boost for a lot of the people.

MCEVERS: When you say do something to truly help, you mean help the opposition in achieving their goal.

AL-AZM: Oh, not even necessarily going that far because some of the people - they just were saying, just do something to stop the bombardment; just do something to stop the civilians being killed; just do something to end the war. It was not specifically, help the opposition win, or help the opposition remove Assad. It was interesting. It was much more sort of generic than that.

MCEVERS: Yeah.

AL-AZM: Just make this stop somehow. Make it go away. When is the international committee - could this be the beginning of an action that will ultimately end this war?

MCEVERS: You talk about how this was a kind of psychological boost to people in the opposition on the ground in Syria. What would the opposition like to see happen from here...

AL-AZM: I think...

MCEVERS: ...In terms of American policy.

AL-AZM: Ideally what the opposition would like to see - and I mean here the moderate opposition. We're not talking about the extremist sort of elements here. I think the moderate opposition would like to see Assad essentially forced to come to the negotiating table. The real issue here - and this is what the United States has not been able to do effectively all through the last six years of the conflict - is to issue a clear direction to provide assertive leadership on this where it becomes absolutely clear to the Assad regime that they cannot win this militarily.

And the only way there is going to be any chance of any elements or part of the regime to move forward is if they negotiate their way out of this. But the only way you're going to push this into a negotiated solution is to degrade the regime to the point where it has no other alternative. As long as it thinks it has other options to survive, it's not going to come to negotiate with any seriousness.

MCEVERS: The old bomb-them-to-the-table theory or fight them to the table, let's say.

AL-AZM: Let's put it this way.

MCEVERS: Degrade them to the table.

AL-AZM: To degrade them to the table or...

MCEVERS: Yeah.

AL-AZM: ...Just to make it so that their best option is to the table.

MCEVERS: Amr al-Azm is a member of the Syrian opposition and a professor at Shawnee State University in Ohio. Thank you very much.

AL-AZM: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.