Who Is Mark Lippert? The U.S. Ambassador to South Korea Has A Seriously Impressive Record

On Wednesday, South Korean media reported that the U.S. ambassador to South Korea had been attacked with a razor blade during a lecture and taken to a nearby hospital for treatment for non-life threatening wounds. Although the attack wasn't serious, it still sent waves throughout government agencies. The lingering question on everyone's mind, however, wasn't so much focused on the act, but on the man himself: Who is U.S. Ambassador Mark Lippert?

If you've been paying attention to shuffling within administration ranks, you might have recognized Lippert as the Chief of Staff for former Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, or from his tenure as Assistant Secretary of Defense for Asian and Pacific Security Affairs. A confidante of President Obama, Lippert was nominated to his current position as South Korean Ambassador in May 2014. 

The 42-year-old Cincinnati native first earned a bachelor's degree in political science from Stanford University in 1997, as well as a master's degree in international policy studies a year later. Lippert also studied Mandarin abroad at Peking University. He went to Washington and worked with Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), and in 1999 took up a position as foreign and defense policy adviser to Sen. Tom Daschle (D-S.D.), one he would later hold for Sen. Barack Obama.  

After a five-year stint as a Senate Appropriations Committee staffer, Lippert became a Navy reservist and took a leave of absence in 2007 to serve as a Seal Team One Intelligence Officer in Operation Iraqi Freedom. Upon his return, he was appointed Deputy Director for Foreign Policy and Senior Foreign Policy Adviser to Barack Obama's campaign team

According to Lippert's records, he served an additional two-year active tour of duty with the U.S. Navy from 2009 to 2011, operating as an Intelligence Officer in both Afghanistan and at the Naval Special Warfare Development Group in Virginia Beach, Virginia, before eventually working his way up to a role in the Obama administration again. 

Lippert's appointment as ambassador came at a particularly tumultuous time in the Korean peninsula, as both North Korea and South Korea exchanged fire over nuclear testing out of the North. At the time, The Daily Beast reported that South Korea had "enthusiastically endorsed" Lippert's appointment, due to his close ties with Seoul while working at the Pentagon. The report also clarified Lippert's role in the formation of "Asia pivot policy," specifically his work on the missile defense programs that would shield the region from North Korean threats. 

Lippert's record isn't spotless, of course — not that that's particularly surprising for someone who has worked in Washington for so long. In 2009, The Washington Post editor and columnist David Ignatius affectionately referred to the then-Chief of Staff to the National Security Council (NSC) and his colleagues as "the Politburo," blasting their rapport with Obama as detrimental to the staff relationship with NSC leadership, namely former National Security Adviser Gen. Jim Jones. Media outlets attributed Lippert's sudden retreat to the U.S. Navy in 2009 as a flare-up between Jones and Lippert as well, questioning the role that the allegedly strained relationship between the two might have had in unseating the Obama staffer. 

With an ample record like Lippert's, it's unfortunate that the veteran and distinguished ambassador's most talked-about footnote will most likely be Wednesday's razor-attack incident. Here's hoping he recovers quickly. 

Images: Getty Images (2)


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