CAMBRIDGE -- President Bush sought to reassure increasingly restive House Republicans yesterday that deploying more troops to Iraq would give the United States its best chance of victory.
"I fully understand there are differences of opinion," Bush told Republican congressmen holding a retreat in this Eastern Shore town. "But one of the things I have discovered is, in Washington, D.C., most people understand the consequences of failure.
"And if failure is not an option, then it's up to the president to come up with a plan that is more likely to succeed. ... The plan I outlined to the American people is one that I believe can succeed."
An audience that had applauded when Bush spoke of cutting taxes and balancing the budget sat silently. Bush's plan to send 21,500 more soldiers to Baghdad is challenging congressional Republicans, who find themselves in the minority for the first time in 12 years, largely because of public frustration over the war.
Some Republicans, including Reps. Roscoe G. Bartlett of Western Maryland and Wayne T. Gilchrest of the Eastern Shore, have written Bush to oppose the increase. House Republican leaders are backing the plan but have proposed "strategic benchmarks" by which they will measure success.
About 160 Republican congressmen came to the Hyatt Regency Chesapeake Bay Golf Resort, Spa and Marina for the three-day retreat to plan their legislative agenda and political strategy at the start of the new session.
Bush, meeting with them for the first time since his State of the Union address, took questions from members about health care, immigration and Iraq after reporters were ushered from the room.
Participants described the closed-door session as a "frank discussion" in which members asked how long the troop increase would last, and what would happen if it did not improve conditions. They said Bush did not ask for support for the plan but warned of dire consequences if it were not pursued.
"If anything, it was an admonition not to let history judge us for having failed to confront the terrorists in their region," Rep. Adam H. Putnam of Florida, the chairman of the House Republican Conference, told reporters.
Rep. Eric Cantor of Virginia, the chief deputy whip, described differences among Republicans as having more to do with tactics than with resolve.
"You've got members saying, 'Is 20,000 too many?'" he said. "You've got members saying, 'Is 20,000 enough?' They're all committed to winning the war."
Gilchrest agreed there was consensus on the need for a stable Iraq and said no one confronted Bush directly on the issue. But he added that Bush was questioned about the war, and that there was "a significant amount of apprehension about Iraq policy in general and the troop surge in particular."
The Marylander said that hearing the president again cast the war as a battle between good and evil "may have brought more apprehension."
"Members that I talk with say this may not be a black-and-white issue," said Gilchrest, a Marine combat veteran of the Vietnam War. "There is apprehension about his absolute certainty in the correctness of what he's doing."
Gilchrest and other Republicans have urged Bush to open discussions with Iran and Syria in order to quell the violence in Iraq. Bush has resisted direct talks with countries that the administration considers adversaries in the war on terror.
This month, Bush accused Iran of providing material support for attacks on American troops in Iraq. He said that Iran and Syria are allowing terrorists and insurgents to use their territory to move in and out of the country.