Mark Lippert Leaves NSC for SEALs

Mark_LippertNow here’s something you don’t see every day:  Mark Lippert, chief of staff of the National Security Council and a close friend of President Obama, has decided to leave the administration to return to active duty in the Navy.  George Stephanopoulos reports:

When Barack Obama came to the Senate, Mark Lippert — a veteran Senate aide and newly-minted Naval Reserve officer — was the first foreign policy adviser he hired. Now, Lippert — currently serving as Deputy National Security Adviser and Chief of Staff to the NSC — is becoming the first senior member of the President’s foreign policy team to leave the Administration.

Lippert had even more influence than his lofty, dual title would suggest, a product of his long service and determined work ethic. While it’s unusual for someone with his level of power and proximity to the President to leave the Administration so early (and there are some reports of clashes with NSA Jim Jones), Lippert associates say he is answering to a higher calling: returning to active military service as a Naval Intelligence Officer.


ALSO- a response from President Obama: “I will miss Mark and his counsel, his excellent work at the NSC, and his good cheer. At the same time, I was not surprised when he came and told me he had stepped forward for another mobilization, as Mark is passionate about the Navy. I support his decision. He is a close friend, and I admire and respect his devotion to our country and answering the call to active duty service. He will always have a senior foreign policy position in this White House, when he chooses to return to civilian life.”

Wikipedia has this short backgrounder:

Lippert grew up in Cincinnati, Ohio. He attended Stanford where he received his degree in international relations. He started out as a policy advisor to Senator Patrick Leahy and a Vermont political organizer. He worked for five years in the Senate Appropriations Committee Foreign Operations Subcommittee. He also handled foreign policy and defense issues for the Senate Democratic Policy Committee. In 2005, he both became a senior foreign-policy aide to Senator Obama and joined the Navy Reserve. From 2007 until the summer of 2008, he served about a year in what had been scheduled as a nine-month tour of duty in Iraq as an intelligence officer for the Navy SEALs; as of 2008 he is a lieutenant junior grade.

And this from WhoRunsGov:

He thought about enrolling in Officer Candidate School, but instead earned a master’s in international relations from Stanford University before moving to Washington to become a Hill staffer. Lippert worked for Sens. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) and Tom Daschle (D-S.D.) before moving to become an aide to Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.). on the Foreign Operations subcommittee of the Senate Appropriations panel.

After the terrorist attacks of September 11, Lippert decided to take the plunge and join the Navy Reserves. He was commissioned in Jan. 2005, serving one weekend a month at the Office of Naval Intelligence in Suitland, Md.


Lippert was called up to active duty in the fall of 2007 and went to Iraq as an intelligence officer in the Navy SEALs.

It’s remarkable for a senior policy official to leave for military service; it’s even more extraordinary that he’s doing to serve in such a junior position, especially given that he’s already done a combat tour.

Corrected opening sentence, as it implied that Lippert is a Navy SEAL rather than an officer who supported SEALs in his last deployment.  Nothing in Lippert’s bio leads me to believe he went to BUDS.  Most likely, as a Reserve Intelligence officer, he was assigned to a SEAL squadron headquarters.

: Andrew Exum thinks this doesn’t make sense.

Couldn’t we have let Mark Lippert do his reserve duty in the White House? I know SEALs need good intelligence officers (insert your own joke about SEALs and intelligence in the comments), but is an intelligence officer for a SEAL team as strategically important as the “deputy national security adviser for operations and chief of staff of the National Security Council”? Am I the only one scratching my head here? C’mon, folks, have the dude throw on a uniform and sit back down at the same desk. If you want to, you can just ask Lippert to spend a little more time sleeping, eating and lifting. And he can talk in some outrageous surfer-dude accent if it will make the Navy happy.

I gather from the sketchy reports on this that Lippert volunteered. But, if he was instead called up, that’s the nature of Reserve duty.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. dan says:

    If that guy is a SEAL then I am Audie Murphy. He is a junior grade intelligence officer in the reserves. But his”war face” is scary.

  2. James Joyner says:

    Actually, yeah, I had a similar reax to the photo. He did serve with the SEALs but I’m guessing he didn’t go through BUDS.

  3. Charlotte says:

    I am surprised that this President hired someone who actually had served in the military. WOW.

  4. Andy says:

    He is not a SEAL and never was, AFAIK. He is an intelligence officer who supports SEALs. Very important difference.

  5. mike says:

    I supplied a SF and Ranger unit for a mission – trust me, that doesn’t make me a green beret or ranger – hopefully no one will spin this as “obama’s guy is now a SEAL”

  6. oceanguy says:

    Looks like a bit of resume padding for a wannabe hero. Where is the BUDS?SEAL training in his rather thin resume?

    An intelligence Officer working with SEALs is one thing… but to even hint he is going back to SEAL duty is a bit much.

    Good on him for volunteering, good on him for his willingness to serve, but he’s not a SEAL… he’s not returning to the SEALs.

  7. anjin-san says:

    Looks like a bit of resume padding for a wannabe hero.

    Have you actually seen his resume? I know that trashing people who actually serve is routine business for the right, but these attacks are pretty sickening. The Stephanopoulos piece says that he is going back to work as an intelligence officer. James’ headline is the one that says he is “Leaving for seals”. Misleading headlines are pretty routine here.

    I know the chickenhawks must be pretty upset by this whole thing, but give me a break.

  8. Not only is he NOT a SEAL, he’s a poser. Private Pyle in Full Metal Jacket could do one pull up — this guy would be hard pressed to do 1 even if there was a piece of puss up there. Then again, that might dissuade him. Typical policy wonk posing as an operator ’cause he did one tour making power point slides… makes me sick.