Editorial: Sen. Kirk sails over the top again

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Sen. Mark Kirk participates in a Republican rally during Governors Day at the Illinois State Fair Wednesday, Aug. 17, 2016, in Springfield, Ill. (AP Photo/Seth Perlman)

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The mystery of Sen. Mark Kirk is how such a cautious politician, usually so careful to measure public sentiment before taking a stand, every so often really puts his foot in it.

The senator did it again last week, calling President Barack Obama our nation’s “drug dealer in chief.”

Say what?

Kirk didn’t literally mean Obama is a drug dealer, running heroin across borders and that sort of thing. He was speaking metaphorically, we guess, while knocking the president for making a $400 million cash payment to Iran that, in Kirk’s view, amounted to ransom money for the release of three American prisoners.

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“We can’t have the president of the United States acting like the drug dealer in chief,” Kirk reportedly said to the editorial board of The State Journal-Register of Springfield, “giving clean packs of money to a … state sponsor of terrorism.”

Kirk is wrong on the facts of that deal, as he often is when it comes to our nation’s foreign policy on Iran. No ransom was paid; the United States had agreed to pay Iran that $400 million long before as part of a negotiated settlement of frozen Iranian assets. But Kirk was even more wrong in his choice of words and tone, which are not befitting a United States senator.

This, unfortunately, is not a new problem for Kirk. He has had a way in recent years of choosing his words strangely.

In April of last year, the senator told reporters that he favored support for African-American businesses “so that the black community is not the one we drive faster through.”

One month later, while discussing an impending pact to limit the development of nuclear weapons by Iran, he said Obama just wanted “to get nukes to Iran.” He soon apologized for that comment. But he also called the deal “the greatest appeasement” since British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain “gave Czechoslovakia to Hitler.”

In June of last year, Kirk joked that Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, who is single, was “a bro with no ho,” and explained, “that’s what we’d say on the South Side.” And in 2013 he called for the mass arrest of 18,000 Gangster Disciples, pulling a crazy number out of a hat.

We should add, by the way, that Kirk’s Democratic opponent for re-election, Rep. Tammy Duckworth, didn’t exactly cover herself in glory in how she handled that goof-up by the senator. In July, she tweeted out that Kirk had “called for the mass arrest of 18,000 African Americans” — when in fact he had said Gangster Disciples — twisting a dumb statement by Kirk into a racist one.

The $400 million the United States paid to Iran on Jan. 17 was the first installment in a $1.7 billion settlement of old debts negotiated over two years. That money was going to Iran sooner or later, but the administration recently acknowledged that it held up the payment for a few hours to “retain maximum leverage” in a separate deal to release the three America prisoners. The cash, delivered on pallets, consisted of Swiss francs, euros and other currencies because U.S. law forbids transacting American dollars with Iran.

We suspect Kirk knows this doesn’t amount to ransom, even if he says otherwise. His real beef is that the Iran nuclear deal is inadequate, in his view, and that the frozen assets should have remained frozen. Much of that cash, he warns, will be used by Iran to foment terrorism.

That’s not an unfair critique of the Iran nuclear deal, even if we would disagree. But when Kirk goes over the top in his rhetoric, such as calling Obama the “drug dealer in chief,” reasonable people stop listening to him.

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