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Mark Kirk: First I was for the State Department, Now I Prefer Israel

Sen. Mark Kirk, the strongly hawkish Republican from Illinois who has accused the State Department of playing politics by negotiating with Iran, has grown increasingly strident in his support for Israel as campaign donations from “pro-Israel” groups has ballooned.

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LobeLog

As I’ve written in the past, I have massive amounts of newspaper, magazine, and other assorted clippings in file cabinets that stretch virtually from one end of the IPS office in the National Press Building to the other. Some of it dates back to 1975, the fateful year I started clipping about international events. While I’ve purged them from time to time over the years, I’m now doing so a bit more indiscriminately in anticipation of at least semi-retirement next year. It’s a sometimes wrenching  process, because each clipping is meticulously underlined, and many of them — there must be tens of thousands at least — actually evoke memories of periods when I thought I understood how the world — or some specific countries — worked.

In any event, as I was going through my “Congress-Demos” in my Iraq file drawer yesterday, I found a little gem of a quote by then-Rep. Mark Kirk from just after the passage of the notorious resolution that gave President George W. Bush the authority to wage war against Iraq. It’s from the October 12, 2002 edition of Congressional Quarterly Weekly:

“‘Many people who never saw war are quick to urge military actions,’ said Rep. Mark Steven Kirk, R-Ill., a Gulf War veteran who supported the resolution. ‘in my own experience, war has taught me to be the best friend of our State Department, a place where diplomacy is the preferred course of action.’”

Not a bad position, even if he did vote for the resolution, as did many Democrats who believed (wrongly) that Bush wouldn’t actually invade Iraq unless and until all diplomatic efforts and UN inspections were exhausted. And, of course, at that time, Colin Powell, who appeared to be trying hard to slow the push toward war that had just been launched in earnest by Cheney & Co. the previous month, was in charge of the State Department — Kirk’s “best friend.”

Now compare his statement back then with those he made in a private call with donors last November 18 just after he announced his intention to introduce amendments to the defense bill that would increase sanctions against Iran, as reported by Ali Gharib and Eli Clifton on the eve of talks between world powers and Tehran that culminated in the Joint Plan of Action. In that call, he complained bitterly about State Department diplomats whose main objective in talking with Iran, he claimed, was “desperately want(ing) a New York Times article saying how great they are.”

“If you see the administration’s negotiating team lined up in these classified briefings, not one of them speaks a word of Farsi or brings any expertise on Iran to the table. If I was going to run a Democratic primary I would definitely hire our current negotiating team. And that would be Kerry and Wendy [Sherman] and the president’s sole qualification for getting on this team is whether you can be a reliable partisan or not.”

Of course, team-member Alan Eyre, the State Department’s Persian-language spokesperson, is so fluent that even Iranians are impressed when they hear him speak, so much so that during the Geneva talks the director of the hard-line Iranian Fars News actually requested a picture with him. In any case, Kirk was apparently particularly upset with a briefing in which he and Sherman tangled, heatedly suggesting that she defer to Israel’s alleged intelligence findings, rather than those provided to her by the US intelligence community, no doubt including the State Department’s Bureau of Intelligence and Research. Said Kirk:

“Israel’s Ambassador to the U.S. Ron Dermer gave me the collective estimate of Israeli intelligence as to where the Iranians are, and Wendy Sherman said, ‘Don’t look at that. Israeli intelligence is not correct.’ So Wendy Sherman would tell me not to believe Israel’s intelligence service, and I took her on pretty strongly. The message that I gave to her was, ‘If you tell the American people that Israeli intelligence is bad, that’s not gonna be a dog that will hunt very well.’”

Well, I guess now-Sen. Mark Kirk’s faith in the State Department has been diminished somehow, but one wonders why. What happened in the 12 years between the time when he considered the institution and its diplomatic skills as his “best friend” and now, when it seems he thinks of its leaders as a bunch of partisan, glory-seeking, uninformed, Israeli intelligence-deniers?

Of course, it could be because the State Department is no longer run by Republicans like Powell, but I offered one other possible explanation in a piece I posted on the same day that Ali and Eli published their piece in Salon that suggested his motivation may relate to campaign finance — specifically the fact that he has received more financial support from PACs associated with the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) than any other member of Congress during the last 12 years. According to opensecrets.org, “pro-Israel” groups gave Kirk’s campaigns (rounded to nearest $1,000):

$95,000 in 2002

$136,700 in 2004

$315,000 in 2006

$445,000 in 2008

$640,000 in 2010 (when he ran for Senate)

I thank Eli, in particular, for jogging my memory about his and Ali’s findings.

Jim Lobe blogs about foreign policy at lobelog.com.

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