President Bush pleaded for time over Iraq yesterday after being warned that the war was destroying the Republican Party and that allies on Capitol Hill were poised to defect.
Mr Bush used a hastily arranged appearance at the Pentagon to urge sceptics of the troop “surge” to “give this plan a chance to work — let’s stop playing politics”.
His appeal came after he received a blunt warning from moderate Republicans that they were on the verge of joining Democrats to demand a troop withdrawal.
Details of the extraordinary White House encounter emerged as the impasse between Democrats and the White House over funding the war deepened.
Robert Gates, the Defence Secretary, said that the failure of congress to provide the $95 billion (£48 billion) asked for by Mr Bush was already delaying military operations and that money for Iraq will run out in July.
The delegation of 11 moderate House Republicans told Mr Bush on Tuesday that unless significant progress is made in Iraq by September — when General David Petraeus, the ground commander, delivers a progress report to Congress — they would desert him. Their warning was the clearest sign yet that although most conservatives still back the President’s surge plan, patience inside the Republican Party over Iraq is wearing thin.
One of the congressman, Mark Kirk from Illinois, told Mr Bush that anger and frustration among his constituents had reached such levels that voters in his district were ready for a pullout of troops, even if it meant conceding defeat.
“We will hang with him until September,” said Ray LaHood, a House veteran who attended the meeting. “The American people are war-fatigued. They want to know there’s a way out. The way forward after September, if the report is not good, is going to be very, very difficult.”
The September deadline is starkly at odds with recent assertions by ground commanders in Iraq that President Bush’s troop escalation plan needs up to year for a chance to succeed. But it reflects deep concerns among Republicans that the party faces more losses in Congress in November — and the loss of the White House — if the war continues its current bloody course.
The delegation also told Mr Bush that his credibility over Iraq was all but destroyed among the public. The meeting occurred as a new poll put his approval rating at 28 per cent
Even the his Republican allies are abandoning Bush now!