Everyone talks about the two-front war, but last week it was a little hard to tell where one front stopped and the other started. President Bush was in the Oval Office Wednesday afternoon being briefed on the bombing campaign: we were running out of targets in Afghanistan and struggling to take out the Taliban's command-and-control capabilities. But the same could not be said for the war at home. With each new anthrax report, the targets here were multiplying, and our command-and-control facilities were shutting down one by one. For a President who likes his facts straight and his decisions clean, the advice George W. Bush got from his top aides was no help at all. Homeland Security chief Tom Ridge had spent the day wrestling with health czar Tommy Thompson over the science of the anthrax in question, including whether it was the fluffy, airborne, superdeadly kind, as Thompson believed--or something slightly less terrifying, as Ridge thought might be possible. Each had experts to back his conclusion. Their conflict wrapped the President in the true fog of war, when a leader must make decisions with only half the necessary information, and all the initial reports turn out to be wrong. "Tom, get these people together," Bush told Ridge. "We need to get to the bottom of this."
But the bottom kept falling out before they could get there. Health officials were confounded by a germ weapon never before unleashed on a civilian population; law-enforcement officials were stymied by bioterrorists who were either linked to the Sept. 11 attacks or merely pretending to be. Military officials faced a Taliban army whose tanks they could blow up but whose will was much harder to degrade. And while the public continued to show great support for the President, each new setback would test that faith. "The American people are going to have to be patient," the President declared Friday, "just like we are."
This is how battles will be lost and won in the 21st century, when everybody finds himself caught on the frontlines. The Commander in Chief alternated between private briefings on the progress in Kandahar and public statements that "I don't have anthrax." Vice President Dick Cheney was coordinating the battle and learning that his key staff members were on Cipro. When two postal workers died, Bush privately told people that he considered them casualties of war, just like the Rangers who had perished in Pakistan a few days before. Both wars became simultaneously more difficult and more disturbing, as the generals acknowledged that the Taliban was a tougher enemy than they had thought and the anthrax threat proved more diabolical than anyone imagined only a week ago.