RENEE MONTAGNE, host:
We're joined now by Senator Jeff Sessions. He's a Republican from Alabama and a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee. He had an opportunity to question General Petraeus yesterday.
Good morning, Senator.
Senator JEFF SESSIONS (Republican, Alabama): Nice to be with you.
MONTAGNE: Now you asked General Petraeus if he believed the United States has - and I'm quoting - "realistic chance of success in Iraq." He said, yes. How do you define success at this stage in the war?
Sen. SESSIONS: Well, I think success means that we create a stable government there that's not a haven for terrorism and does not result in a victory for Iran and other dangerous forces in the Middle East. That's an important question because I think the American people, particularly last year, began to wonder if there was any hope for a successful outcome. And also got that same positive answer from all 20 members of General Jimmy Jones' commission that reported last week, also, that independent commission of people outside the government.
MONTAGNE: Yeah. But for you, does this come with a three, a five - some are even talking about a ten-year commitment.
Sen. SESSIONS: You know, this is a commitment of years. There's no doubt about that if we continue our policy. The - certainly, hopefully, that the numbers will be much less in the outer years. We just got below 40,000 troops in Korea, for example, but we certainly would not want to have that number of troops in Iraq 10 years from now. But I could imagine that we would have…
MONTAGNE: But you're thinking of that as…
Sen. SESSIONS: …for a period of years a military presence Iraq.
MONTAGNE: And a possible model of Korea, hopefully, not set a large presence. General Petraeus has spoken at length about success in Iraq's Anbar province, as has the president. Were the Sunni tribal leaders have joined U.S. and Iraqi forces against al-Qaida militants? Is progress there enough to justify the general's recommendations that troop levels remain elevated?
Sen. SESSIONS: I think the progress there was quite dramatic. I was there in October of last year, and the report was very discouraging. Within a matter of months, major changes occurred when the tribal leaders turned against al-Qaida. This has been a bad year for al-Qaida and they continue to be hurt pretty badly. So progress is being made. We want to maintain the momentum. I was pleased that the general said he could maintain his momentum while drawing down 30,000 troops within the next year…
MONTAGNE: Let me draw your part…
Sen. SESSIONS: …a little better than I expected, frankly.
MONTAGNE: Let me draw your attention, though, to something General Petraeus said in response to a question from a Republican senator, John Warner, who asked if the war in Iraq is making America safer. General Petraeus replied, quote, "Sir, I don't know, actually." President Bush has said repeatedly that the war in Iraq is a key to the larger war against terrorism - al-Qaida. Shouldn't that be a result of the strategy? Shouldn't Petraeus - General Petraeus know?
Sen. SESSIONS: What General Petraeus said was, before he said that, was that he was focused on Iraq. He was not charged with the responsibility of the overall strategy for a war on terrorism. But twice lighter, he made very clear - and it was explicit - that if we failed in Iraq, it would encourage al-Qaida and make them stronger. And if we succeeded, it would make them weaker. And he believed that would make the United States safer.
MONTAGNE: Senator, I spoke over you a moment ago, but you suggested that the withdrawal of 30,000 troops was a positive thing in your mind. But isn't there a need to draw down at least that many troops before the spring, or by the spring, in terms of the ability of the military to maintain that sort of level?
Sen. SESSIONS: I think it is. We could maintain perhaps longer than that. He's talking about beginning withdrawal this fall. Most thought that we could sustain this at least until the spring. But at any rate, I'm glad that he's doing that. We do have our military in a stressed situation. It's held up exceeding well. I'm just so proud of our military. But we cannot ask too much of them. And we need to reduce that stress as soon as possible. So getting the troops down - levels down is very important, I think.
MONTAGNE: Senator, thank you very much.
Sen. SESSIONS: Thank you.
MONTAGNE: Senator Jeff Sessions is a Republican from Alabama. He was one of the senators who questioned General Petraeus and Ambassador Crocker yesterday.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by a contractor for NPR, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of NPR's programming is the audio.