A Decade of Huffing and Puffing for the Huffington Post

It's probably due to the fact that I'm turning 80 next year, but I've been looking back on my life a lot lately. It was 50 years ago that I came to Washington as a young newspaper correspondent, 38 years ago that I became Vice President Mondale's press secretary, 21 years ago that I helped start The Hill, and ten years ago that I began writing for the Huffington Post.

It called itself an online news aggregator and blog, and as I made clear in my post, "Blogging Virgin," in the May 2005 inaugural issue, it was the first time I had ever written a blog. "In fact, I almost never even read blogs, much less write them, but my friend Arianna Huffington's invitation to contribute to huffingtonpost.com was too intriguing to turn down."

I wrote that I was still mired in the Gutenberg era, but was a big fan of Google, and was gradually getting used to fact that most people no longer wrote snail mail letters but communicated almost exclusively via email. And I pointed out that journalism had changed dramatically in the past decade with the advent of the Internet, 24-hour cable TV, radio talk shows like those of Don Imus, to which I contributed. Besides, I had offered my opinions, insights and prejudices in the more than 500 columns I wrote for The Hill, which I guess is pretty much the definition of a blog.

In the almost 200 blogs I have written for the Huffington Post since then -- all without remuneration, I should add -- I have ranged far and wide, writing both substance and satire. I wrote about presidents, princes and popes I've encountered, about my role in bringing Soviet President Gorbachev to Minnesota, my visit to the Oklahoma City bombing memorial, my friendship with Irish poet Seamus Heany and baseball great Tommy John, my travels to some 75 countries and my experience as the target of Internet trolls like the one who called me a "flaming asshole" for criticizing Nancy Pelosi. I responded that I resented being called "flaming."

But I want to focus on the first one I wrote, in which I declared my belief that journalism plays an important role in our society. "A free and unfettered press is still one of the cornerstones of our magnificent system of democratic self-government. And it doesn't work very well without a press that is free to nip at the heels -- and occasionally take a big bite out of -- those officials and bureaucrats to whom the people have given the power to govern."

I wrote the post shortly after returning from the first of two trips to Iraq. I went there because I felt it was important to talk to the men and women doing the fighting -- and dying -- and see for myself what was happening in the greatest projection of American military, economic and political power since Vietnam.

I traveled the length and breadth of Iraq, which is the size of California, while speaking with several hundred people, including those in charge of the coalition forces that had occupied Iraq since the American-led invasion two years earlier, as well as soldiers and Marines, U.S. and Iraqi government officials, private contractors involved in rebuilding Iraq's infrastructure, fellow journalists and ordinary Iraqis.

I pledged to continue writing about Iraq, declaring "There is just too much at stake in Iraq, and in Afghanistan as well, to turn away from the momentous story being played out daily in dozens of other places where U.S.-led forces are trying to shape the history of the 21st century.

"As I told Gen. John Abizaid, commander of U.S. forces in the Persian Gulf region, what we're trying to do in Iraq and Afghanistan is like putting together a 1,000-piece jigsaw puzzle in the dark. He didn't disagree, and no one I spoke to, from four-star generals to Marine grunts, tried to disguise the fact that we could expect to have a major presence in Iraq and Afghanistan for years to come."

In fact, several generals told me that counterinsurgency wars, as this one was, typically take seven to 10 years to complete. Most Army and Marine officers said they hoped U.S. troops would be used almost exclusively in an advisory role while Iraqi security forces took over, but that goal was clearly still a long way off.

Finally, I noted that the latest supplemental appropriation of more than $82 billion for Iraq and Afghanistan approved by Congress brought the total cost of the effort to implant a semblance of democracy in those countries to more than $300 billion, which is in the neighborhood of the $500 billion spent for the Vietnam war.

And in a prediction that proved all-too accurate, I wrote that while the cost in lives of the American military was far below that of Vietnam, in the not-too-distant future, "I think the American people will begin to ask, as they did of the Vietnam war, if this is worth it."

Anyway, thanks to those who read my initial venture into the Huffington Post's brave new world of journalism, and those I have written in the ten years since.