Finish the Mission

One deeply ingrained political superstition is to never talk about what will happen after the election until your candidate has won. These days, for instance, no matter what the polls say, every speechwriter pens both a victory and a concession speech (and now a third speech in case of a tie).

But at the risk of tempting fate, allow me to pose a question: What will George W. Bush do if he loses the presidency?

On January 20, 2005, Bush will be only 58 years old, and in good health. Unlike Gerald Ford, he is too young to hit the celebrity golf tournament circuit. Unlike Richard Nixon, he has shown none of the intellectual curiosity or aptitude to write tomes about foreign policy. Unlike Bill Clinton or Jimmy Carter, he has shown little interest in becoming a world statesman, having alienated many of our allies and traveled little as president. And unlike a vice president, it would be unseemly for him to jump on corporate boards.

If George W. Bush loses this election, he will face a career crisis not seen since his days as a failed oil wildcatter before he was elected governor of Texas. But like all confused job seekers, Bush should follow his passion, which is clearly bringing freedom and democracy to Iraq. That is why if John Kerry is elected president, he should appoint Bush to be his ambassador to Iraq.

It would be an unprecedented move, to be sure. Yet ex-presidents have been used before for special diplomatic missions, and it's been a long time since the United States faced a crisis like the one in Iraq.

Bush would be a perfect fit for the job in Iraq. No one can doubt his dedication to the cause. As he put it, “people in the Middle East want to be free,” and that “freedom is the almighty God's gift to each man and woman in this world.” Who can argue with that? Bush should be given the chance to deliver God's gift to the Iraqi people.

Now, I know what you're thinking: Iraq is too dangerous for an ex-president. After all, a large swath of the country is a no-go zone, and even the secure Green Zone in Baghdad was the scene of a recent bombing. Stop being so pessimistic! Although the president says that securing Iraq is “hard work,” he also points out over and over again that “we're making progress.” Bush himself told us that there are only “pockets” of anti-coalition violence, and “Iraqis are ready to fight for their own freedom” (even though the Iraqi-led “Fallujah Brigade” disbanded in the face of attacks during recent fighting in Sadr City and 49 Iraqi National Guard recruits were massacred by insurgents this week).

Most of all, Bush will have help in Iraq; as he said during the first presidential debate in September, “Our alliance is strong.” It doesn't matter that 90 percent of the casualties are American, that the Spanish have pulled out, and that the Poles are itching to do the same. President Bush knows how to unite the world. This time, he can unite the world alongside, not against, the United States.

Once in place, Bush will at last have a chance to execute his plan for postwar Iraq, without the bothersome media “filter” that has plagued his presidency and hampered his efforts in Iraq during these past two years. As our man in Baghdad, he'll no longer have to listen to those naysayers -- like the Joint Chiefs of Staff -- who contend that there was no realistic or comprehensive plan for the reconstruction of Iraq. Bush told us months before the invasion that “we will plan carefully.” Let's take him at his word and give him the chance as ambassador to put his plan into action.

First, Bush will have to help the Iraqis with their own elections planned for January, which he insisted during the first presidential debate will be held on schedule. In light of United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan's statement last month that continuing violence “may threaten elections planned for January and has forced UN international staff to be limited to 35,” Bush will have to go to Baghdad himself and lend some of his expertise in the electoral process to the task of making sure that the elections do, in fact, happen.

Once a democratic government is in place, Ambassador Bush will have to work with the Iraqis to rebuild their country. So far, only $1 billion of the $18 billion reconstruction aid package has been spent, and only 12 of the 2,300 reconstruction projects have been completed. Senator Chuck Hagel, the Republican from Nebraska, has called this slow pace “beyond pitiful … beyond embarrassing … now in the zone of dangerous.”

Clearly what is needed is new leadership. With Kerry in the White House and Bush in Baghdad, we'll have it in both countries. Even better, we'll have an ambassador who is personally invested in the future of Iraq like no other that I can think of. There is no politician in the country or leader in the world whose reputation hinges more on the outcome there than Bush's. So the choice this November 2 is clear: Send Kerry to the White House and Bush to Baghdad.

Kenneth S. Baer, a former senior speechwriter for Vice President Al Gore, runs Baer Communications, a Democratic consulting firm.