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Republicans seized on the signals of division among Democrats.

“Pelosi’s support for immediate troop withdrawal has set the Democrats into chaos on the Iraq issue,” said a senior Republican Party official. “Not only do the Democrats have no plan on Iraq, they have no unity.”

White House officials privately blame the president’s low job-approval ratings on his reluctance to forcefully defend his Iraq policy against fierce attacks by Democrats in the year after re-election. Mr. Bush began to fight back Nov. 11, when he called Democrats “deeply irresponsible” for saying he had manipulated prewar intelligence to justify the invasion of Iraq.

Since then, the White House has significantly ramped up its rhetoric in an effort to give Americans a clearer choice between Republicans and Democrats on the difficult issue of Iraq. Presidential aides acknowledge that they made an enormous blunder by becoming preoccupied with Social Security reform while letting Democrats conduct a yearlong monologue on Iraq.