Mark William Lippert (born February 28, 1973) is the current United States Ambassador to South Korea. Prior to his tour as Ambassador, Lippert had served as Chief of Staff for Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel, Chief of Staff for the National Security Council, and Assistant Secretary of Defense for Asian and Pacific Security Affairs in the Department of Defense. On March 5, 2015, he was attacked by a man wielding a knife in South Korea.
Early life and education
Lippert was born in and grew up in Mariemont, Ohio, a suburb just outside of Cincinnati. He is the son of Susan (Bridges) and James William Lippert, a lawyer. Lippert graduated from Stanford University where he studied political science as an undergraduate and received a master's degree in international policy studies. While in graduate school at Stanford, he studied Mandarin Chinese at Peking University as part of a study abroad program. As a result, Lippert is known in Mandarin as Lee Mokai (Chinese: 李模楷), the Chinese name he chose for himself during his stay in Beijing.
Prior to 1999, he worked at the State Department and for California Senator Dianne Feinstein. Lippert was a defense and foreign policy advisor to then Senator and Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle and the Senate Democratic Policy Committee from 1999 to October 2000. He then served as a researcher for Senator Patrick Leahy from October 2000 to February 2001. Lippert served on the professional staff of the Senate Appropriations Committee, State–Foreign Operations Subcommittee, from February 2001 to June 2005. In June 2005, he became a foreign policy advisor to then Senator Barack Obama, who was then serving on the Senate Foreign Relations committee. He was recruited by Senator Obama's Chief of Staff, Pete Rouse, who is currently serving as Counselor to the President.
Lippert was also commissioned into the Navy Reserve in 2005 through the Navy's direct commission officer program as an intelligence officer. From August 2007 until June 2008, he served about a year in what had been scheduled as a nine-month tour of duty in Iraq as an intelligence officer with the Navy SEALs. He received a Bronze Star Medal for his service in Iraq.
After he returned from Iraq, Lippert served as a senior foreign policy advisor to then-Senator Obama's 2008 presidential campaign. He was responsible for briefing Obama on emerging foreign policy issues throughout the campaign. He helped prepare Obama on foreign policy for the presidential debates. Lippert later served as deputy director for foreign policy for the Obama–Biden Transition Project.
Throughout his time in the Senate and during the presidential campaign, Lippert was noted for having a close relationship with then Senator Obama. He is credited for helping Obama develop his views on defense and foreign policy, particularly his support for a withdrawal of American troops from Iraq, which was completed under President Obama in December 2011 as well as Obama's emphasis on transnational security issues, such as genocide and weapons of mass destruction.
Following Obama's inauguration in January 2009, he was appointed Deputy Assistant to the President and Chief of Staff for the National Security Council, a position which had not existed in the Bush administration, but had existed in previous administrations. During his time as Chief of Staff, Lippert oversaw the merger of the staffs of the Homeland Security Council, which had been created in October 2001 by President Bush, and the National Security Council, into a single National Security Staff. Unlike his recent predecessors, then-National Security Advisor General Jim Jones delegated much of the day-to-day responsibilities for the National Security Council to his deputy, Tom Donilon, and to a couple of Obama campaign veterans, including Denis McDonough and Mark Lippert.
In October 2009, Lippert resigned from the National Security Council to return to active duty in the Navy. There was speculation surrounding Lippert's resignation that he was pushed to leave due to significant disagreements with General Jones, especially with respect to the troop surge. Jones accused Lippert of leaking information about him to Bob Woodward for Obama's Wars. Lippert was succeeded by Denis McDonough, who would go on to later serve as Deputy National Security Advisor, then White House Chief of Staff. Lippert had originally recruited McDonough to serve as then-Senator Obama's foreign policy advisor during his 2007 deployment to Iraq.
Lippert spent two years serving as an intelligence officer with the Navy SEALs and the Naval Special Warfare Development Group, better known by its former name, SEAL Team Six, including deployments to Afghanistan and undisclosed locations in Africa. He continued to be on the White House payroll while on active duty, which is permitted by federal law, but caused some controversy.
After completing his active duty with the Navy, Lippert was nominated by President Obama in October 2011 to succeed General Wallace Gregson as Assistant Secretary of Defense for Asian and Pacific Security Affairs. While Lippert's nomination was held up for several months due to holds placed on it by Senators John McCain and John Cornyn Lippert's relationship with former National Security Advisor Jim Jones, and over F-16 sales to Taiwan, respectively, he was confirmed by the Senate in a voice vote on April 2012.
When Kurt Campbell resigned as Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs in February 2013, Lippert was rumoured as a possible replacement for Campbell. Lippert was named newly confirmed Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel's Chief of Staff in early May 2013.
Ambassador to South Korea
On May 1, 2014, President Obama announced his intention to nominate Lippert to be United States Ambassador to South Korea. The United States Senate voted to confirm Lippert's nomination on September 18, 2014. He was sworn in as the new ambassador by Secretary of State John Kerry in October 2014. He arrived late to his post due an issue with the transportation of his pet dog.
At about 7:40 a.m. on March 5, 2015, Lippert was attacked by a knife-wielding man at a restaurant attached to Sejong Center in downtown Seoul, where Lippert was scheduled to give a speech at a meeting of the Korean Council for Reconciliation and Cooperation. The assailant, Kim Ki-jong, is a member of Uri Madang, a progressive cultural organization opposed to the Korean War. He inflicted wounds on Lippert's left arm as well as a four-inch cut on the right side of the ambassador's face, requiring 80 stitches. Lippert underwent surgery at Yonsei University's Severance Hospital in Seoul. While his injuries were not life-threatening, doctors stated that it will take several months for Lippert to regain use of his fingers. A police official said that the knife used in the attack was Script error: No such module "convert". long.
During the attack and while being subdued by security, Kim screamed that the rival Koreas should be unified and told reporters that he had attacked Lippert to protest the annual United States-South Korean joint military exercises. Kim has a record of militant Korean nationalist activism; he attacked the Japanese ambassador to South Korea in 2010 and was sentenced to a three-year suspended prison term.
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