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Name: Lippert, Mark
Current Position: Ambassador


On May 1, 2014, President Barack Obama nominated Mark W. Lippert, who is currently serving as chief of staff to Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, to be the ambassador to South Korea. The Senate Foreign Relations Committee held a hearing on Lippert’s nomination on June 17, 2014.


Lippert was born in Cincinnati on February 28, 1973. Growing up there, he played baseball, football and basketball, with the latter skill coming in handy later in life. He attended Stanford University, earning a B.A. in political science in 1997 and an M.A. in international policy studies the following year. He took time out from Stanford to study Mandarin at Peking University.


After graduation, Lippert went to Washington, working for Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-California), and then, starting in 1999, as foreign and defense policy adviser to Sen. Tom Daschle (D-South Dakota) and the Democratic Policy Committee. In 2000, he became a staffer on the Senate Appropriations Committee, advising Sen. Patrick Leahy. It was there that he met the woman who would become his wife, Robyn Schmidek, another committee staffer. She is now a lobbyist for UnitedHealthcare.


In 2005, Lippert began work for then-Sen. Obama as foreign policy adviser and sometime basketball opponent. That same year, Lippert, whose mother’s family had a strong military tradition, joined the Navy Reserve as an intelligence officer. He was called to active duty in 2007, serving in Iraq with Naval Special Operations Forces.


Lippert came home in 2008 to work on Obama’s presidential run as a senior foreign policy advisor for the campaign and subsequently deputy director of foreign policy on Obama’s transition team.


After Obama’s inauguration, Lippert was a deputy assistant to the president and then was named chief of staff for the National Security Council (NSC). Lippert left the NSC in 2010 and served another tour with the Navy, this time in Afghanistan with Seal Team Six. He was seen as having been pushed out of his NSC post by National Security Advisor Jim Jones, who thought that Lippert had been talking to reporters. 


Lippert returned in 2012 and was nominated as assistant secretary of defense for Asian and Pacific Security Affairs. However, it was a while before he could assume his post. His nomination was first held up by Sen. John McCain (R-Arizona), who wanted details of Lippert’s departure from the NSC. When McCain finally lifted his hold, Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) put on one of his own to protest the administration’s failure to sell F-16 fighter jets to Taiwan. Lippert was finally confirmed in April 2012.


He ended up serving just more than a year in that post, becoming chief of staff to Hagel in May 2013.


If confirmed, Lippert will be the first political appointee to head the Seoul embassy; the job has previously been filled by career Foreign Service appointees. However, the South Korean government is reportedly eager to have an ambassador with such close ties to Obama.

-Steve Straehley


To Learn More:

Obama Confidant To Be Next Ambassador To South Korea (by Josh Rogin, Daily Beast)

Official Biography

Testimony to Senate Foreign Relations Committee (pdf)

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