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Kirk bullish about Libya, concerned about total U.S. pullout from Iraq

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, Oct. 26, 2011U.S. Sen. Mark Kirk, R-Ill., says he's concerned that Iran may be the major beneficiary of President Barack Obama's decision to pull virtually all U.S. troops out of Iraq by the end of this year.

Kirk, who was in the St. Louis area touring Boeing Co.'s facilities, said in an interview Tuesday that while he agreed that the U.S. could "dramatically reduce the amount of troops in Iraq," he feared that a complete pullout could have unintended consequences.

"To go to zero means we will have almost no influence," Kirk said. "And it's very important given all the time and attention we have spent on Iraq to make sure that the government doesn't collapse and that Iraq does not become an ally to Iran."

Kirk said he preferred Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's initial plan "to include a residual presence" of U.S. troops in Iraq as "the lower risk, better way to go that would ensure U.S. national security over the long run."

The Obama administration has since decided to remove all remaining 39,000 soldiers because Iraqi officials have declined to grant U.S. troops immunity from prosecution under local laws. Such a requirement has been standard in any country where U.S. troops are deployed. At one point, the U.S. had 170,000 troops in Iraq.

"No doubt when you announce that all the troops are coming home, it's going to be popular," added Kirk, who also serves in the Naval Reserve. "But the point of our national security policy is not to make the popular decision, it's to make the one that protects the American people over the long haul. And keeping Iraq out of an alliance with Iran, or keeping one of the top oil producers from collapsing, I think is very much in the U.S. interest."

Kirk was more optimistic about the future of Libya, a North African nation whose longtime ruler -- Moammar Gadhafi -- was killed by rebels earlier this month. The United States had been part of an international coalition offering military support, in the United States' case, from the air.

Kirk, who visited Libya with other GOP senators earlier this year, said the reception he received from Libyans was encouraging. "In general we have the makings of a very strong, pro-U.S. ally in Libya," Kirk said.

"I was in Libya a month ago and I was optimistic," he continued. "I thought I would see a war zone. But the rebels really took Tripoli intact. And anti-Gadhafi graffiti was everywhere. The mood of the country was very pro-American. The moment people heard that an American delegation was there, they kept coming up saying, 'Thank you.' "

Kirk Decries Boeing/nlrb Fight, Illinois Spending

Kirk was in Mascoutah, Ill., on Tuesday to visit the recently opened Boeing facility, where he said 100 people will eventually help build parts for the C-17 cargo aircraft, the Chinook helicopter and the F-18 fighter jet.

He said he hadn't been paying attention to the controversy over the Missouri General Assembly's passage of a non-binding resolution seen as an unintended slight to Boeing, which employs 15,000 workers in the St. Louis area.

But Kirk added that he was concerned over a dispute between Boeing and the federal National Labor Relations Board over Boeing's plan to shift work to a proposed new non-union plant in South Carolina for the 787 Dreamliner aircraft.

Kirk contended that the NLRB's objections amounted to "a singularly idiotic move by a couple of bureaucrats in Washington trying to cripple the No. 1 exporter in America with the No.1 product of that exporter -- the 787," Kirk said. "And so my hope is we can block (in Congress) the NLRB from doing this particularly idiotic maneuver so that we can build employment at Boeing in general."

Meanwhile, Kirk also had harsh words for the state government in his home state of Illinois, which has been battling financial problems for years. The senator's office recently produced a YouTube video  and a written report on the subject, efforts he said are meant to tell Illinois state officials that they should not expect a "federal bailout" for what he viewed as poor fiscal decisions.

"In this climate with the federal credit rating already collapsing -- one of the three AAA ratings already being taken away from Uncle Sam -- I don't think the (U.S.) House of Representatives would ever vote to bail out a spendthrift state like Illinois or California," Kirk said. "Therefore, I wanted to advise the people of Illinois on the peril of the decisions made by their own government, and to advise them as well that this is a solution that has to be solved by the people of Illinois from the state of Illinois."

He also said people need to focus on "systemic risks to the economy," such as growing state debts. Such debts force communities such as Mascoutah or Peoria, Kirk said, to pay higher interest rates on bonds because they're located in Illinois.

He asserted that "because California and Illinois are so irresponsible, they are beginning to cloud municipal finance across the country."

Jason Rosenbaum, a freelance journalist in St. Louis, covers state government and politics.

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