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Leading from the Rehab Center

Mark Kirk didn’t let a stroke slow his campaign for Iran sanctions.

Dec 17, 2012, Vol. 18, No. 14 • By ALANA GOODMAN
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Meanwhile, Kirk was dealing with other obstacles in Chicago. He was slowly relearning to walk, practicing on a treadmill and stairs. A video released by his office four months after the stroke showed Kirk struggling down a hallway with a quad cane and oxygen mask, flanked by several medical aides. Two months later, the cane and mask were gone. By the end of the summer, Kirk was able to return home and start outpatient treatment.

The language-dominant side of the brain (the left side for most people) controls communication. Kirk’s stroke was on the right side, which handles executive functioning, including memory and focus. Still, his staff maintains that he’s as sharp as before, when he developed a reputation for being able to rattle off precise details, like the names of Turkish banks enabling illicit trade for Iran. In Illinois, he keeps up with Washington developments through multiple daily conversations with staff, TV news, and occasionally on his iPad.

There are lingering challenges. The videos released by Kirk’s office show some paralysis on the left side of his face, which causes subtle speaking irregularities. He doesn’t use his left arm in the footage, giving credence to reports that it may never regain full function. But those who have met with him in Chicago say his recovery has been impressive.

“Senator Kirk is a great friend, and I am really encouraged by his progress,” says Scott Brown, the outgoing Massachusetts senator, who visited Kirk in rehab. “While he’s working very hard to recover, he’s still focused on policies to help his constituents and our country. He continues to be a leader on preventing Iran from getting a nuclear weapon.”

Last week, Kirk’s office announced that he will be back in Washington in January in time for the next session. That would mark a full year since his stroke, and nearly a year into maximum-force sanctions that have devastated the Iranian currency but haven’t halted the regime’s nuclear program.

In the months Kirk was away, Iran increased its supply of 20 percent-enriched uranium by one-third; it doubled the number of nuclear centrifuges at its underground Qom facility between May and August, according to a report by the International Atomic Energy Agency. Kirk, for his part, is working on new legislation expanding banking and energy sanctions, which he plans to introduce toward the end of the year.

“On the sanctions dial of zero-to-10 we’re probably at a 7,” Dubowitz said. “We need to get to a Spinal Tap 11.”

And so Kirk keeps building the pressure on Tehran, focused and methodical, the same way he paces the treadmill and mounts the stairs—on November 3, he made his first public appearance at a Chicago fundraising event, climbing three dozen flights of stairs inside Willis Tower.

His recovery is far from over. But the world doesn’t stop spinning, and neither do Iran’s centrifuges.

Alana Goodman is an assistant online editor at Commentary.

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