BY ABDON M. PALLASCH Political Reporter
CHICAGO--Illinois GOP Senate nominee Rep. Mark Kirk's problems with exaggeration or "casualness . . . with details," as he described it last week, go beyond his military record to his comments about foreign policy issues that are supposed to be his strong suit, a Sun-Times look at the record has found.
Kirk last week had to apologize for claiming on his military resume, the floor of Congress and in campaign commercials that he received an award he did not receive and that he was shot at when it was not clear his plane was fired upon. And he had to clarify that he served stateside, not in the combat zone, during Operation Desert Storm.
Part of what makes Kirk such an attractive U.S. Senate candidate for Republicans is the U.S. Naval Reserve intelligence officer's ability to speak authoritatively about Iraq, Afghanistan, international relations and other issues on which his security clearance would seem to give him special insights.
He spends a weekend each month at the Pentagon in the "war room" -- although he had to clarify last week that he only runs the intelligence "silo" of the War Room. And last year he became the first member of Congress since World War II to deploy to a war zone in Afghanistan.
But some of the stories Kirk tells on the stump seem a bit too good to be true. When he last ran for re-election to his congressional seat, he got into trouble for saying China was drilling for oil off the coast of Cuba, which was not true, he acknowledged Thursday in a meeting with the Sun-Times editorial board.
Speaking to the City Club of Chicago last year just after President Obama authorized the shooting of Somali pirates who kidnapped American Capt. Richard Phillips, Kirk got a whole lot wrong talking about pirates attacking ships off Africa.
"We began to see some backbone, not from the U.S. but from France," Kirk said. "France was always good for a quick $2 million ransom until the election of President Sarkozy. When his first ship was seized, he authorized the standard ransom payment -- with a transmitter in the box. As that went into the pirate compound, he then authorized French Special Forces to roll in. And they killed everybody. . . . It kind of shocked us in the Pentagon. But it sent a clear message and I don't think the French have had many problems since."
Here's the problem: Much of the answer was fiction. It wasn't the first ship attacked after Sarkozy took office; and the French Special Forces didn't kill everybody. In fact they didn't kill anybody, Sarkozy has said.
Sarkozy backed that up with video footage of the French forces chasing the pirates who tried to escape in two SUVs through the Somali desert. The French forces disabled one of the SUVs and captured the six pirates, who were flown to France to stand trial. Four other pirates escaped in the other SUV with some of the ransom. One local official said at the time of the raid that three to five Somalis may have been killed, but Sarkozy said none was.
And it did not end France's problems with pirates -- several ships have been attacked since then, and commandos mounted rescues, both before and after Kirk's speech.
"Oh is that right?" Kirk said Thursday, sounding surprised. "OK, well that was initial reports, because I don't know if it was from Al-Jazeera, that they said, 'Oh, they rocked and rolled here.' If Sarkozy says that's not true then that's not true. I think French ships would be treated better if the other were true."
Last year, Kirk told WLS-AM (890) that America should drill offshore for oil so we don't have to import oil from Iran: "We have a fundamental choice. . . . We can either buy 80 billion barrels of oil from the Iranians or from ourselves. And we should buy it from ourselves," he said.
The problem is, the U.S doesn't get oil from Iran. The U.S. government has adopted sanctions for any company that would try.
Kirk said Thursday that the U.S. might be using Iranian oil by another name: "Oil is a commodity," Kirk said. "An identical good as it is flowing into an international market quickly loses its identity. In international markets, people will change the papers very quickly." Kirk has worked hard to pass laws stopping companies from selling gas to Iran.