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Matheson says Bush's plan would hurt war on terror

Published January 11, 2007 12:15 am

This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2007, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

WASHINGTON - Rep. Jim Matheson expressed serious doubts about the Iraq blueprint outlined Wednesday by President Bush, saying it could put more soldiers in the line of fire without a clear strategy for success.

"I feel what we're doing is putting more troops in harm's way," said Matheson, Utah's only Democrat in Congress. "I think anything we've asked of our soldiers from Utah and anywhere in the country, they've done everything we've asked them to do . . . What our soldiers deserve is a long-term strategy with an endgame."

He said he has not seen anything to indicate that the proposal to add more than 20,000 troops would change the situation on the ground.

Bush received backing from most of his GOP colleagues in the Utah delegation, who called the president's strategy sound and were optimistic it would succeed in quelling the insurgency in Iraq.

"I was struck by how comprehensive the president's proposals were and how careful his analysis was," said Sen. Bob Bennett.

"The president has articulated a fundamental change in strategy designed to win the war in Iraq, " said Sen. Orrin Hatch. "I believe it is an intelligent approach."

But Matheson noted that Gen. John Abizaid, commander of the forces in the Middle East, and Gen. George Casey, commander of the multinational forces, both said, before they were replaced this month, that additional troops would not help the situation in Iraq. And the surge could undermine the fight against terrorists, he said.

"In terms of stretching the military thin, is this [surge] affecting our operations in Afghanistan, where we have real problems with the Taliban?" he asked. "The terrorist threat is real and I want our country to be in the best position to go after al-Qaida."

Hatch and Rep. Rob Bishop, R-Utah, appreciated Bush's emphasis on making the Iraqis take on their fair share of national security.

"The president clearly sent the message to the Iraqi people that America's patience is not unlimited," Bishop said. "Now is the time for Iraq to stand up for itself."

An immediate pullout would create a vacuum and total collapse, Matheson said. Instead, he says the United States needs to focus on the economic and political revival of Iraq - areas in which the president proposed new efforts Wednesday.

Utah's Republican congressmen agreed that a pullout was not an option, calling the battle for Iraq a critical stage in the war on terrorism.

"The war on terror is more than just Iraq, but what happens there will help determine our overall success against terrorism in the world," Bishop said.

Retreat is not an option, argued Hatch.

"We have to win this. If we walk out of there without accomplishing our mission, Iraq will become a breeding ground for al-Qaida and other terrorist organizations," he said.

Matheson urged the U.S. to engage in an aggressive regional diplomatic effort that includes Iran and Syria, steps that were encouraged by the Iraq Study Group. All of those steps can occur without a troop buildup, he said.

gehrke@sltrib.com