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[Newsmaker] Lippert: More than just Obama's friend

When U.S. Ambassador to South Korea Mark Lippert began his term here last October, local reports expressed hope that Lippert’s friendship with U.S. President Barack Obama would help strengthen the alliance between the two nations.

Lippert, the youngest-ever Washington ambassador to Seoul at 42, lived up to the expectations of boosting ties, not through his relationship with Obama, but through what appeared to be his genuine urge to get to know the everyday people on the streets here.

Lippert has been an Obama ally since 2005, working with the future president at the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. When Lippert deployed to Iraq in 2007 as an intelligence officer in the U.S. Navy, Obama had reportedly texted him, “I miss you, brother.”

In Obama’s 2008 campaign team, Lippert served as the top foreign policy adviser, before working as the deputy national security adviser and the National Security Council’s chief of staff. Lippert deployed once more to Afghanistan after returning to active service in October 2009.

U.S. Ambassador to South Korea, Mark Lippert (Korea Herald)
U.S. Ambassador to South Korea, Mark Lippert (Korea Herald)

In South Korea though, Lippert’s connections with Obama did not mean as much as his dog Grigsby, his awkward Korean language skills, and his newborn son James, whose middle name is Sejun, a common Korean boy’s name.

During the past few months in Korea, Lippert could often be seen out walking with Grigsby, a short-legged basset hound that enjoys over 600 followers on his own Twitter account.

In another photo on the ambassador’s social networking account of him on a visit to Busan, Lippert has written in Korean, “I was at Busan last night. Food delicious!!! Made new friends!!! Fish and sushi house thank you!!! Had fun!!!”

Lippert’s effort to learn the Korean language can also be seen on his blog, entitled “The Lipperts in Korea.”

In a video posted on the blog, Lippert greets viewers in Korean with his wife Robyn, before asking viewers in English to “please stop us on the streets when you see us (and) please say hello to Grigsby.”

On a posting on Jan. 30, Lippert introduces readers to his new son born in Seoul earlier that month -- James William Sejun Lippert. Sejun was given his middle name so he could remember his “history here in the Republic of Korea,” Lippert said.

When the ambassador was attacked Thursday by a man wielding a 23-centimeter knife at the Sejong Arts Center, the South Korean public rose in a unified voice condemning the assault.

Online postings expressing regret were commonly found on newsfeeds in Naver, South Korea’s most often-visited Internet portal. “We are sincerely sorry,” one message read, while another read, “this is an embarrassment to our country,” in apparent criticism of the lax security put on the envoy who had trusted the level of safety here.

Politicians from the governing Saenuri Party and the main opposition New Politics Alliance for Democracy showed a rare moment of bipartisanship when they denounced the violence against Lippert as “intolerable.”

“We express thanks to President Park Geun-hye, Vice Foreign Minsiter Cho, the political parties, and the public who have expressed (their sorrow),” U.S. Embassy official Robert Ogburn said later in the day.

By Jeong Hunny (