We first reported, on March 25, 2011, that President Obama had decided to appoint one of his closest friends and advisors, Mark Lippert, to run the Asia division of the Pentagon – officially “assistant secretary of defense” for the region.
The nomination is going forward, now that Senator John McCain has lifted his hold.
McCain initially stalled the appointment, because Lippert reportedly opposed the “surge” of US troops into Afghanistan in 2009.
Lippert responded to a list of questions from McCain that the senator’s office says satisfied the senator. People close to Lippert say he was not involved in the Afghanistan policy debate.
In any case, there is little doubt that Lippert will soon be in office at the Pentagon, directing the Asia division that Obama is so concerned about. Nothing is guaranteed, of course. Other senators could hold back the nomination. But McCain was the key, the senator that others lo0ked to for directon.
Senator McCain’s office confirms that the senator submitted detailed questions to Lippert, and differences were resolved, at least to the point that McCain will allow the nomination to go forward.
Lippert, a Stanford University graduate who speaks Mandarin Chinese fairly well, was Obama’s earliest foreign policy advisor when Obama arrived on Capitol Hill. Before that, he worked for Senator Patrick Leahy.
No one will comment on the record. But Lippert reportedly was involved in incidents in Afghanistan where Chinese troops arrived, and he had to negotiate with senior Chinese officers...in Chinese.
It is easy to see why Obama and Lippert get along so well; they both have a seemingly humble feature that hides a fierce determination. They interact very easily, like teammates more than political allies. Friends say they are like brothers.
The Lippert nomination is a critical part of Obama’s “pivot” toward Asia. Obama wants “his guy” to be over-seeing what the Administration says is a major change in focus of US foreign policy.
Lippert, who in a very sociable way told me he could not comment, was initially appointed as chief of staff to Obama’s initial national security director, General Jim Jones. The word from Bob Woodward was that Lippert kept undercutting Jones, using his personal connection to the President to go behind the back of his nominal NSC boss. Lippert strongly denies this.
There is probably some truth on both sides. The Obama team is very close. But Woodward never interviewed Lippert to get his side of the story. And Lippert, saying nothing against General Jones, denies he ever undercut his boss.
In any case, Lippert is a Navy officer, appointed through a little-known program that allows acknowledged academics to serve, as part-time officers in support of career Navy officers. Kurt Campbell, currently chief of the State Departmentment’s East Asia division served in the Navy in this way. In Lippert’s case, he worked with the now-famous SEAL organization. After his disagreements with General Jones at the NSC, Lippert went back to Iraq as a SEAL. He will not comment on what he did, but it was intelligence-related.
Josh Rogin of The Cable has reported Lippert has remained on the White House pay roll.
Obamna deliberately chose Lippert for this Pentagon post. Obama wants to shift US foreign policy toward East Asia, and wants a person in charge that he can trust.
That doesn’t mean that Lippert can have his way at the Pentagon. Indeed, there was opposition to his appointment, even among Obama supporters, who were fearful Lippert did not have the combination of policy and managerial skills to orchestrate the kind of change in US foreign policy – toward East Asis – that Obama so much favors. But Obama was insistent that he wanted Lippert; Obama really wants a “pivot” in US foreign policy toward East Asia, and he wants one of his guys to be in charge.
Senator McCain’s office confirms that McCain has lifted his hold on the Lippert nomination. Other opposition could arise, but it is unlikely.
Lippert, despite being a Stanford academic, has serious combat experience. Lippert himself will not talk about his work as a Navy SEAL. But there is no doubt that Obama listens carefully to his views.