Democratic and Republican senators sharply disagreed yesterday on whether President Bush and his top advisers have provided them with enough information to judge the soundness of Bush's Persian Gulf policy.

Democrats who were briefed Wednesday afternoon at the Capitol by Secretary of State James A. Baker III and Defense Secretary Richard B. Cheney expressed frustration that the administration officials refused to answer key questions about the military buildup in the gulf.

But Republicans who attended the same session said they believed Baker and Cheney had been as candid as possible and that the Democrats were expecting too much from the administration.

Also yesterday, Sen. Bob Kerrey (D-Neb.) criticized the newest deployment of U.S. forces to the gulf, saying the president's declaration that the additional troops provide the United States with an offensive capability threatened to undo the gains Bush has made since August in rallying world opinion against Iraqi President Saddam Hussein.

"It is a mistake because it forsakes the tools of a potential new world order in favor of the tactics of the old world order," Kerrey said in a statement. "Rather than relying on diplomacy, cooperation and multilateral regulation of arms flows, we will revert primarily to reliance on U.S. troops and U.S. arms sales. Since September it has appeared that the president was increasing his reliance on these 'old world' remedies."

Sen. Jim Sasser (D-Tenn.) said he left Wednesday's closed-door briefing on the gulf "very depressed and very apprehensive. . . . There's a sense that the Congress is getting very little information and as a result we suspect that this policy has not been as well thought out as we would like," he said.

Several sources said that during the afternoon session with Baker and Cheney, Sen. Paul S. Sarbanes (D-Md.) sternly lectured the administration officials, saying they should spend more time consulting Congress and less time traveling around the world consulting with U.S. allies on the next steps in the gulf. One source said Sarbanes warned that they were in danger of losing support in Congress by their failures to provide a clearer picture of the administration's plans.

But Sen. John H. Chafee (R-R.I.), a former Navy secretary and Marine veteran of both World War II and Korea, said he has been satisfied with the briefings by administration officials. "That's what the secretary of state should be doing," he said in response to the criticism that Baker was spending too much time abroad. "We can't expect to be briefed every 20 minutes."

Another Democratic senator who attended the session said he shared Sasser's frustration. "They weren't forthcoming at all," said the senator, who asked not to be identified. "They were just totally unwilling to provide us with any significant information. It was almost ridiculous. They said they didn't know how many American troops would be over there. They didn't know the timetable for sending the troops. They were unwilling to consider {questions} about what changes in the posture these forces are now taking. We were talking by one another."

Chafee said that many of the questions asked cannot be answered by the administration, including the number of casualties they expect if there is conflict or whether they are planning to invade Iraq. "I don't know what else can be done," he said. "To sit down and hold everybody's hand at noon everyday is impossible."

"I think a number of Democrats sense this as an issue and have wanted to be able to raise questions and criticism and have a forum in which to do it," said Sen. Nancy Landon Kassebaum (R-Kan.), who said she found the session with Baker and Cheney to be "a pretty good briefing."

A senior administration official said the briefings on Capitol Hill were not intended to convey sensitive information. The official noted that the House briefing was open not only to members but also to staff.

Staff writer Ann Devroy contributed to this report.