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The USDA on Iraq: Everything's Coming Up Rosy

By Al Kamen
Monday, May 8, 2006

Career appointees at the Department of Agriculture were stunned last week to receive e-mailed instructions that include Bush administration "talking points" -- saying things such as "President Bush has a clear strategy for victory in Iraq" -- in every speech they give for the department.

"The President has requested that all members of his cabinet and sub-cabinet incorporate message points on the Global War on Terror into speeches, including specific examples of what each agency is doing to aid the reconstruction of Iraq," the May 2 e-mail from USDA speechwriter Heather Vaughn began.

The e-mail, sent to about 60 undersecretaries, assistant secretaries and other political appointees, was also sent to "a few people to whom it should not have gone," said the department's communications director, Terri Teuber . The career people, we are assured, are not being asked to spread the great news on Iraq in their talks to food stamp recipients, disadvantaged farmers, enviros or other folks.

The e-mail provided language "being used by Secretary [Michael O.] Johanns and deputy secretary [Charles F.] Conner in all of their remarks and is being sent to you for inclusion in your speeches."

Another attachment "contains specific examples of GWOT messages within agriculture speeches. Please use these message points as often as possible and send Harry Phillips , USDA's director of speechwriting, a weekly email summarizing the event, date and location of each speech incorporating the attached language. Your responses will be included in a weekly account sent to the White House."

This scoreboard, of course, will ensure you give it your best shot.

Now, you might still be scratching your heads, trying to figure out how this is going to work when people expect a talk about agriculture issues. Not to worry. The attachments -- which can be viewed at http://www.washingtonpost.com/fedpage -- show how easy it is to work a little Iraq happy talk into just about anything.

There's a sample introduction: "Several topics I'd like to talk about today -- Farm Bill, trade with Japan, WTO, avian flu . . . but before I do, let me touch on a subject people always ask about . . . progress in Iraq." See? Smooth as silk.

So then you talk about how "we are helping the Iraqi people build a lasting democracy that is peaceful and prosperous." If it looks like the audience is with you, try to slip in the old Iraq/al-Qaeda/terrorism link and say Americans are helping build a country "that will never again be a safe haven for terrorists."

Loop suggestion: With the polls showing that only about 40 percent of those surveyed actually still buy the linkage thing, you may want to use some discretion here lest you lose the audience.

The e-mail shows how to weave in a comment that times are tough for Iraqi farmers. "But revitalization is underway. President Bush has a clear strategy for victory in Iraq structured on three tracks -- political, economic and security."

Be crop-specific. "The Iraqis have also discussed specific products, like tomatoes, which they are anxious to export into the world community," the e-mail notes.

Talk turkey, or chicken, to your audience: "The major poultry producers in Iraq . . . are using [U.S.] loan guarantees to buy U.S. corn and soybeans. . . . This in turn provides a cycle of income that is being used to update 25-year-old chicken houses," the e-mail suggests. Chickens apparently produce better in nice homes.

But what if your speech is on civil rights? Easy. Begin this way: "I'm here to talk about civil rights, which is one of the fundamental tenets of democracy." Then you can say this country "has been evolving for 230 years . . . still working to become a more perfect union . . .

"So before I begin talking about the civil rights climate at USDA," the example says, "I'd like to address the situation in another nation that is just now forging the path to democracy."

Bingo! You're in. Now: "The president has a clear strategy for victory in Iraq structured along three tracks," etc.

Let's say you're talking about U.S. agricultural productivity. Try this: "I'd like to take a moment to talk about a nation that is just now beginning to rebuild its own agricultural production.

"Iraq is part to the 'fertile crescent' of Mesopotamia," the sample script says. "It is there, in around 8,500 to 8,000 B.C., that mankind first domesticated wheat, there that agriculture was born. In recent years, however, the birthplace of farming has been in trouble."

Probably want to pause here and give the audience a chance to catch its breath. It's hard to travel 10,500 years that quickly. "But revitalization is underway. President Bush has a clear strategy . . ."

Don't forget to send that weekly e-mail to Harry.

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