Alexi Giannoulias Tuesday tried to implicate Mark Kirk in the biggest lie in recent American history: the claim that Saddam Hussein had to be overthrown because Iraq possessed “weapons of mass destruction.” In a press conference with Duckworth, Giannoulias called Kirk “Bush’s architect for the Iraq War,” and said that “he got it wrong: weapons of mass destruction will cost us over a trillion dollars and thousands of lives.”
Verdict: Way Falsey.* Here's why.
Last week, Giannoulias brought in retired Gen. Wesley Clark to attack Kirk’s military credentials. And now he's brought in Tammy Duckworth, the assistant Veterans Affairs secretary who lost both legs when an Iraqi missile struck her Black Hawk helicopter.
Giannoulias is trying to play up Kirk's 2003 declaration on the House floor: “we know to a moral certitude of such weapons.” The Daily Herald reported that Kirk said he had seen “classified information that convinced him the resolution was needed.”
Giannoulias’s campaign is hoping those veterans and quotes advance their portrayal of Kirk as a puffed-up little man in an oversized uniform who uses his military credentials to make dubious claims.
While it's true that weapons of mass destruction was a lie, the lie was George W. Bush’s, not Kirk’s. All but six Republican members of the House of Representatives voted to authorize military action against Iraq (not to mention a fair number of Democrats), so it’s hard to argue that Kirk’s support for the invasion was motivated by the same character flaw that later caused him to claim he’d flown on a reconnaissance mission during the war. And while Kirk may have repeated Bush's claims, he didn't play a primary role in building the case. He was a small-time committeeman.
The case here is really against the word "architect." If you're going with tortured construction metaphors, Kirk was more a yeoman bricklayer. Giannoulias is undermining his case by exagerating Kirk's significance.
Beyond the disengenuity of arguing that Kirk was the "architect" of the Iraq War, the issue's not likely to work as a campaign stumping point. The war began seven years ago, the president who started it has left office, and the combat troops began their withdrawal in August. It’s no longer the biggest issue in American politics. It hasn’t been since the Wall Street meltdown of 2008, which began the recession that replaced the war on terror as the voters’ number-one concern.
Giannoulias would be in a better position to attack Kirk if he had an anti-war record or a war record. But he doesn’t have either. In 2002, Barack Obama was speaking out against the march to war, but Giannoulias was so apolitical he didn’t even vote that year. Giannoulias didn’t vote in 2004, either, even though that election was a referendum on Bush’s conduct of the war.
And, as the Weekly Standard illustrated last week, Giannoulias was wearing a basketball uniform at an age when many young men wear a military uniform. (Nice guns, though.) That’s why Giannoulias can only criticize Kirk’s military record when he’s standing next to someone manlier than he is. These appearances with military veterans are intended to make Kirk look small, but they’re making Giannoulias look even smaller.
* Welcome to Ward Room's "Truthish or Falsey" series, in which we judge politicians' tenuous grasp of hard facts and tendency to cast unfounded aspersions. Each day, we'll examine one campaign snipe -- whether from a broadcast ad, internet video, accusation made in public or via interview, and policy statement -- and judge that statement "truthish," "kinda truthish," or "way falsey." The larger the untruthishness, the larger the cartoon nose. We hope you enjoy. And judge. Harshly.