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Beirut, here I come

I was alone, reading a copy of the Saturday Evening Post last week from January 1962, when I thought to myself, "Richard, you need a life."

Evidently, the management at NBC News agreed. They decided to give me the opportunity to open a Middle East bureau based in Beirut, Lebanon -- a dynamic city with enough high-life and low-life to keep things spicy. I can have a home there. Life in Baghdad has involved a lot of nights reading old magazines in a dingy, poorly lit, empty hotel room. Ah, the romantic life of a foreign correspondent!

I will continue to cover the Baghdad beat, my daily diet for the past three years, but also be able to explore the rest of the region, which brings me back to the Saturday Evening Post article. It was entitled "The Seething Arab World." In words as appropriate today as they were 44 years ago, the magazine reported: "The observer, looking at the Arab world today and trying to predict what may happen there, is in a position of a seismologist peering at a great range of volcanic mountains and trying to guess which smoldering cone will explode first."

I think a seismologist examining the region today might be even more nervous. I suspect the mountains are even more explosive. The new bureau will allow us to look beyond Iraq and to examine how the war has affected the wider region, asking questions like: Why has neighboring Iran been emboldened by the collapse of Saddam Hussein's regime? What are the Gulf States doing with the their windfall oil revenues? And why does this region consistently supply radical groups with young people willing to kill themselves to kill Americans?

Covering the broader Middle East is a daunting task that reporters have struggled with for decades.  Again, I quote the Saturday Evening Post from 44 years ago: "There is a saying in the Middle East that a foreign journalist who comes there and stays for a week goes home to write a book, in which he presents a pat solution to all the Middle East's problems. If he stays a month, he writes a magazine article, filled with 'ifs' and 'buts' and 'on the other hands.' If he stays a year, he writes nothing at all, for the complexities and paradoxes of this explosive area have left him bewildered and confused."

After 10 years living and reporting in the Middle East, three of them in Iraq, I am equally bewildered and confused, but also excited and immensely grateful. I will endeavor to do my best.