MARK KIRK STARTS TO LOOK EVEN WORSE…. When it comes to his military service record, Republican Senate candidate Mark Kirk of Illinois clearly has a problem. His record of demonstrably false claims is surprisingly long, and the controversy raises legitimate character questions.

But the Chicago Sun-Times reports today that Kirk’s problems of exaggerated rhetoric “go beyond his military record to his comments about foreign policy issues that are supposed to be his strong suit.”

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. […]

But some of the stories Kirk tells on the stump seem a bit too good to be true.

They seem that way because they’re not true at all. Kirk claimed that China was drilling for oil off Cuba’s coast, but that was proven false. He told an elaborate tale last year about France taking a tougher approach to Somali pirates than the U.S., but every relevant facet of Kirk’s story turned out to be complete fiction.

Kirk also said that if only the U.S. would embrace more coastal drilling, we could stop buying “oil from the Iranians.” In reality, the U.S. doesn’t buy oil from Iran.

This bears some resemblance to Mark Kirk’s deceptive rhetoric about his service record — in both cases, he seems to have a propensity to exaggerate claims to the point that they’re clearly false. But in this case, the exaggeration raises different concerns. When Kirk misleads the public about his experience, it raises questions about his integrity. When Kirk misleads the public about international affairs, it raises questions about his competence.

I suspect Kirk is similar to John McCain — he appears to have credibility on subjects relating to national security and foreign policy because of his background in uniform. But like McCain, it appears that a little scrutiny exposes someone who doesn’t really know what he’s talking about, and has a habit of making claims that don’t make any sense.

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Follow Steve on Twitter @stevebenen. Steve Benen is a producer at MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show. He was the principal contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal blog from August 2008 until January 2012.