True Grit in a Dirty War

How might the US lose the war in Afghanistan? By losing public trust in the "war" on anthrax.

Support for the foreign war remains robust, at least during the first few weeks of the bombing and before US troops go cave hunting for Osama bin Laden.

But rising doubts about the government's ability to end bioterror at home have the potential to erode support for the foreign war - a war that US officials say might go on for years with messy mistakes. Only 18 percent of Americans have a great deal of confidence that the government could protect them from terrorism, according to a recent New York Times poll.

Missteps by the Bush administration in handling the anthrax threat are easily correctable. Officials already are responding faster and releasing more accurate information.

Americans, too, need to maintain moral courage - and the strength that comes with it. Terrorism is meant to spread fear more than destruction, while a war against terrorism requires level-headed reason and patience.

Polls show Americans are braced for a long war, even with high troop casualities. Antiwar voices remain small and unpersuasive, too easily blaming US policies for the Sept. 11 attacks.

But, as in the spring of 1968 during the Vietnam war, and in 1993 during the Somalia conflict, public opinion can all too quickly turn against a war effort.

Mr. bin Laden has been a master of public relations and tactics. But it may be Washington's own faltering steps that can turn fight into flight.

The nation is on the same edge of uncertainty as in 1776, 1861, 1941, and 1949 (the start of the cold war).

Those great wars were won.

This one can be, too.

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