The U.S.-South Korea Alliance, With Mark Lippert

Ambassador Mark Lippert, vice chairman of the Halifax Forum and senior advisor for the Center for Strategic and International Studies Korea Chair, sits down with James M. Lindsay to discuss U.S.-South Korean relations and the Biden administration’s broader Indo-Pacific strategy.

November 30, 2021 — 32:19 min
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Host

James M. Lindsay

Senior Vice President, Director of Studies, and Maurice R. Greenberg Chair Full Bio

Episode Guests

Mark Lippert

Show Notes

Ambassador Mark Lippert, vice chairman of the Halifax Forum and senior advisor for the Center for Strategic and International Studies Korea Chair, sits down with James M. Lindsay to discuss U.S.-South Korean relations and the Biden administration’s broader Indo-Pacific strategy.

 

Polls Mentioned in the Podcast

 

Karl Friedhoff, “South Koreans See China as More Threat than Partner, But Not the Most Critical Threat Facing the Country,” Chicago Council, April 6, 2021

 

Hong Suk-ji, “Survey Results of South Korean Perception on the ROK-U.S. Alliance,” Korea Institute for Defense Analyses, November 2, 2021

 

Richard Wike et al., “What People Around the World Like–and Dislike–About American Society and Politics,” Pew Research Center, November 1, 2021

 

Statements Mentioned

 

U.S.-ROK Leaders’ Joint Statement,” The White House, May 21, 2021

 

Webcasts Mentioned

 

Mark Lippert, The Capital Cable, CSIS Korea Chair

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Transcript

Jim Lindsay:

Hi podcast listeners, want to keep up on what's happening at home in abroad? Check out the podcast Axios Today. It's a daily news show covering the biggest stories in why they matter. Every morning, host Niala Boodhoo talks to Axios journalists around the country and experts around the world to give you what you need to know to start your day. They cover everything from politics, to space, to race injustice, all in just 10 minutes. Listen to Axios Today, wherever you get your podcasts.

Jim Lindsay:

Welcome to The President's Inbox, a CFR podcast about the foreign policy challenges facing the United States. I'm Jim Lindsay, Director of Studies at the Council in Foreign Relations. This week's topic is the U.S. - South Korea Alliance.

Jim Lindsay:

With me to discuss U.S. - South Korean relations and the Biden administration's broader Indo-Pacific strategy is Ambassador Mark Lippert. Mark is vice chairman of the Halifax Forum and senior advisor for the Center for Strategic and International Studies Korea Chair, where he hosts The Capital Cable, a biweekly webcast on Korea in Northeast Asia. From 2014 to 2017, Mark served as the U.S. Ambassador to the Republic of Korea. He previously served as a foreign policy advisor to then Senator Barack Obama, a senior foreign policy advisor on Obama's 2008 presidential campaign, and then deputy assistant to the President and Chief of Staff for the National Security Council at the start of Obama's first term.

Jim Lindsay:

He left the White House to go on active duty as an intelligence officer in the U.S. Navy in Iraq, where he was awarded the bronze star for his work with Navy Seals. After returning from Iraq, Mark held several senior positions in the Department of Defense, including as chief of staff to Secretary of Defense, Chuck Hagel. Mark, thanks for speaking with me.

Mark Lippert:

Jim, great honor to be here. Thank you for having me. Big fan of the podcast.

Jim Lindsay:

Well, thank you very much for being a listener. Now you get to go into the arena and I'd like to start if we may, Mark is with just sort of a big picture view from you on how you would assess the or state of the U.S., South Korea relationship.

Mark Lippert:

Well, Jim, again, thanks for having me. It's a real honor. And what I would say on the bilateral relationship between Washington and Seoul is it is in good shape. The alliance remains popular on both sides of the Pacific. I think something that is not insignificant in two democracies. I think the Biden administration team came in and resolved a lot of the low hanging problem issues, namely among them a nettlesome burden sharing agreement between our two militaries on how much each side would pay for the hosting of U.S. Troops in South Korea. About 30,000 U.S. troops are there. And they had a very successful summit between the two leaders earlier this spring.

Mark Lippert:

And if you read the joint statement that accompanied the summit, it was as comprehensive a list that one has seen in the relationship and I think that was a good thing because it builds on the work that some of us had been doing for a while to get the alliance beyond security. Security, a critically important central piece, but there's other components in terms of trade the environment, energy, I could go through a long list. That was accomplished.

Mark Lippert:

Final piece. What's next? That's really the question. I think there are two things that are extant here. One is back in the security bucket, where are we on North Korea? That is a longstanding question that colors the alliance and it's particularly acute given President Moon Jae-in is term limited, running out of time and getting something going with North is a signature issue of his.

Mark Lippert:

And the second piece is where are we on some of these other issues? Namely, I would say trade where I think the South Koreans are quite interested in the U.S. economic agenda in the Indo-Pacific. And where are we going on some of these things that were outlined in the joint statement, but we haven't heard a lot about recently? Supply chains, the environment, things of that nature.

Jim Lindsay:

Mark, I want to get into all of those things. Before we do that, I want to talk about what might be the elephant or rather the dragon in the room, and that is China and how China is viewed from Seoul. Obviously, as you know, President Biden has come in and said that for the United States, job one in foreign policy is building a response to the rise of China. Obviously South Korea is in China's neighborhood. May have a slightly different view of China, of Beijing's activities. So how would you describe the way Seoul is trying to make sense of what the rise of China means for South Korea?

Mark Lippert:

Well, right alongside the North Korean issue, this is the paramount question in South Korean foreign policy these days and you could argue it is the most important because North Korea technically is a unification issue handled by the Unification Ministry. So the point here is that the South Koreans have long dealt with this in their history. They call themselves the shrimp between the whales. A relatively big country, but surrounded by huge countries. And this latest chapter in their history, because this is not new for the South Koreans and having to deal with big powers proximate to their doorstep, is one that is dominating South Korean foreign policy thinking at the moment.

Mark Lippert:

I can't tell you how many conferences or webinars or whatnot that are explicitly on this topic. The other piece is the South Koreans just had a government to government delegation in Washington recently. This was at the top of the agenda and it goes a little, something like this. How are they dealing with it? The dilemma from South Korea is China is a massive trading partner. It is their biggest economic partner. It is close. It is not going anywhere. And the vice foreign minister when he was in DC recently called them a partner. On the other hand, you’ve got the U.S.-ROK Alliance, Republic of Korea Alliance. That is the security guarantee that the United States will come to the peninsula. So how to balance those two?

Mark Lippert:

What I would say right now is the South Koreans are interested in a balance. They are not overly interested in hard decisions. Having said that it's clear to me that it is not equidistant. There is a shading towards the U.S. - Republic of Korea Alliance, but what that distance is between equidistance and complete agreement on all Biden administration initiatives on China, is very much in influx in the discussion. And last point, starting to feature in the presidential race between the two candidates that are vying to replace Moon Jae-in in March, his presidential election.

Jim Lindsay:

Well, Mark, can I draw you out on that? Because obviously March 9th, South Koreans go to the polls. It's no secret that whoever wins a presidential election can greatly change certainly the tone, if not the substance of Korea's foreign policy. So tell us a little bit more about how the two candidates are breaking down on this question of China and the U.S.-ROK Alliance.

Mark Lippert:

Absolutely. And what I would say is there's been great overstatement about the differences in the two main parties. There's a left of center party, the democratic party, the Minjudang, their standard bear for this election is Lee Jae-myung, who is a governor of Gyeonggi Province. And on the right center party is Yoon Seok-youl of the people's power party and he is a career prosecutor. I would say to try to not overstate this, generally speaking the right of center party, and the reason I'm using these terms is that Korean political parties change their names a lot. So the right of center party would generally fall closer towards the Biden administration's international coalition diplomacy towards China.

Mark Lippert:

Not completely. It's not a zero or a one choice, but I would say they tend to shade a little closer. I would say on the left of center, they tend to be a little more independent minded, a little bit more inward looking at times and they have a history within their party of being a little less proximate to the U.S. Alliance, a little less internationalist and a little bit more independent in terms of their foreign policy outlook.

Mark Lippert:

Again, I don't want to overstate it, but I think there is a bit of a difference emerging on the presidential campaign that is more than marginal in this instance.

Jim Lindsay:

Well, we certainly have roughly three more months to go and that may bubble up in intensity depending upon events, both in South Korea and in the region. But I want to sort of bring the aperture back a bit, Mark, if we can and talk just a little bit more about the Biden administration's Indo-Pacific policy. President Biden has put the quad at the forefront or near the forefront of that policy. Obviously the quad involves United States, Japan, Australia, and India. South Korea's not part of the quad. How is that being interpreted in Seoul?

Mark Lippert:

It's an interesting question. First, let me just say to, Jim, to follow up a bit on what we already talked about. It is worth noting that popular support for China is low in South Korea these days. And it's low, particularly among young voters and young voters are an important constituency in this election, in that they are seen generally as swing voters. They are really important. So that's one piece.

Mark Lippert:

The other piece that's interesting here about China is that it's a noisier debate and discussion than has existed previously to my ear at least. Usually China is something that is there, but is not openly discussed. It is a more quiet issue. It is a louder issue this time around. And part of that I think has to do with what I just mentioned, young voters, swing vote. So the quad figures into this a bit in terms of Washington, I think is interested in expanding the quad at some point. I don't want to overstate. I think they've got a lot of work to do on figuring out what the quad is and consolidating some of these early meetings.

Mark Lippert:

If you talk to the Japanese or Indians about this, I think they'd say we've got a lot of work left to do. And then in, at some point we'll talk about new entrants. So I don't want to overstate that there's, demarche is coming to South Korea every 15 minutes to enter the quad. But having said that, I do think that there is interest. And where does this breakdown in terms of the South Koreans? I would say the current government in Seoul has made in treaties and shown some marginal interest. There was language around this in the joint statement that they would work with it or explore it. But I think getting into the quad by the end of Moon Jae-in's term in March is not going to happen.

Mark Lippert:

I think then the question is who is elected. And again, the right of center, the people's power party has generally made noises that they would be more willing to come into the quad and would possibly in fact enter the quad if there was an election. Again, it's a long way between now and the election. It's a long way of transition, all of that. So with those caveats, I would say though, the right of center party has shown more interest and even made much more explicit statements towards support for the quad to that end.

Jim Lindsay:

I should just note on the issue of public opinion, Mark, there have been a number of very good polls done in the last year on South Korean public opinion. The Chicago Council has done a poll. The Pew Research Group has done a poll. The Korean Institute for Defense Analysis came up with a poll just earlier this fall, that sort of, again, shows that many Koreans are much more concerned now about China than they were even just a few years ago and much warmer toward the United States. But that's not the same as saying that they want to sign up for everything coming out of Washington.

Jim Lindsay:

But I'm curious, one last question about the quad. Because again, I think you're right that the quad is something in progress. It's not clear what it's going to be. Do you have any concerns that it could become a threat to the bilateral alliance the United States has with South Korea, undermine it in any way?

Mark Lippert:

Jim, good question. I do not. A couple of reasons. First, the bilateral relationship between Washington and Seoul, the alliance, so to speak, is in really good shape in my opinion. Especially in terms of long term outlook. I would argue over the past 10 to 15 years, the alliance has matured. It's popular. It's grown in terms of its scope and it's withstood some challenges.

Mark Lippert:

I think for those reasons, I think that's, the fact that the alliance is so strong, gives me a lot of confidence in that we can do both. The second reason is, further to one is that because the alliance has grown in scope and the nature of the challenges it confronts, you work with the South Koreans a lot more in multilateral, minilateral, all sorts of context beyond the bilateral relationship. And putting those two together gives me a lot of confidence that joining the quad, if the South Koreans were to come in, it would not undermine the Washington-Seoul relationship.

Jim Lindsay:

I had one other question, Mark, about the bilateral relationship and that's its strength in light of the big event of the summer, which was the collapse of the government in Afghanistan. As you know, there was a lot of talk during that very chaotic withdrawal. People saying that the American credibility had been deeply damaged. That America's partners around the world would be much less likely to work with Washington because they were afraid that they could not count on Washington to live up to its promises. Do you see any signs that has been the case in Seoul? That they are reading the collapse of Afghanistan in the way it happened as raising real concerns about U.S. credibility when it comes to the bilateral relationship?

Mark Lippert:

I don't want to dismiss the import of the Afghanistan issue and I don't want to sound Pollyannish on this answer, but I do not in the South Korean context. And the reason is because we have such a long history. We have such an integrated, combined command in terms of South Koreans, the United States working together in integrated command structures on the peninsula. That we know each other and have the institutional relationships, I think that have seen ups and downs before.

Mark Lippert:

So all of that leads me to say, plus I guess I would add conversations with South Korean friends in numerous national security and political capacities would lead me to say, I do not see an undermining of U.S. credibility from the Afghan withdrawal episode.

Jim Lindsay:

I want to shift gears, Mark, and get to the topic of North Korea, because it is obviously a critical issue for South Korea. It is significant issue for U.S. security. When president Moon was elected, he had high hopes that he would be able to make significant movement toward unification. We had President Trump who changed up U.S. Strategy, had multiple meetings with the, a leader of North Korea. But it seems that despite all of that, we are no better off and perhaps worse off in terms of a relationship with North Korea. Where do you see the North Korean issue going in the years to come?

Mark Lippert:

Obviously this has been a policy issue that has vexed, countless administrations, or not countless, but many administrations hitherto. What I would say in the current circumstances, which make forecasting difficult is that COVID-19 has had a profound impact on North Korea. They have essentially closed their borders. They have shut down informal markets. They have self sanctioned in a way that really nobody else in the outside world is doing at this point. This is not inconsistent with past behavior. The North has a history of being very concerned with global health issues in, I think it was 2015, they shut down their borders or at least issued a quarantine rather, over the Ebola outbreak in West Africa, which was not at all approximate.

Mark Lippert:

So it's not inconsistent with the past behavior, but it is a complete wild card on what will happen next. I think the North likely is riding the COVID pandemic out, number one. Number two, looking at the South Korean election, as we've talked about before coming up in March to gauge and you've seen some actions and statements out of Pyongyang that I think are designed to inject themselves a bit into the election. And three, trying to calibrate what the U.S approach, both in terms of the relationship with North Korea, but also the relationship with China is, in terms of its decision making, going forward.

Mark Lippert:

So long term, I think it's very difficult to predict other than the North has been very clear over the past several years that it is going to continue it's nuclear weapons and missile programs, and those will continue to grow unless the international community does something to either curtail, suspend or roll back the program or programs that exist in North Korea at this present time.

Jim Lindsay:

Does President Moon have any specific steps that he is hoping the Biden administration will take toward North Korea during the final months of his presidency?

Mark Lippert:

Absolutely. It's a great question. And what President Moon is attempting to do is to get the United States and the North Koreans in some grouping to sign essentially, what you would call an end of war declaration, a peace declaration. And what's the broader context of that? The broader context is that the Korean War ended in 1953 without a formal peace treaty. It ended with an armistice and it set up a regime at the demilitarized zone that was supposed to last a couple of years while the two Koreas sorted things out. Well, here we are decades later, there is no peace treaty. There still is a demilitarized zone.

Mark Lippert:

There still are United Nations Institutions up at the demilitarized zone that police, for lack of a better term, the two sides. What this peace declaration or end of war declaration would do according to the theory put forward by the blue house in Seoul is to essentially try to create the conditions to reduce tensions, reduce hostility, and essentially create a better context with which the two sides, especially the United States and North Korea could then enter into negotiations and perhaps drive to an outcome sooner and with less friction.

Mark Lippert:

So that's where President Moon is focused on his last several months in office is this peace declaration, end of war declaration between the United States and in North Korea.

Jim Lindsay:

Are there any signs that the Biden administration is going to give him what he wants and why wouldn't they if they're not going to?

Mark Lippert:

It's not clear. I've heard different rumblings from different sources. I think it's something that the Biden side is looking at. Why wouldn't they? And again, I haven't expressed a view here. I'm just trying to lay out both sides. Why wouldn't they? I think the argument goes something like this…

Jim Lindsay:

Understood.

Mark Lippert:

Never has the peace treaty or lack thereof been a significant demand from the North Koreans that has inhibited or otherwise accelerated negotiations on the nuclear weapon and missile programs, right? And essentially this issue of signing a peace treaty to end the war has always been left to the end of the process.

Mark Lippert:

The argument here is to bring it forward at the beginning of the process and North Korean experts who watch this closely argue that this is all perhaps interesting, but there is no real data or case for either the North Koreans wanting this thing now, or number two, even if they did want it, or even if you stand mute on that first question, that it would have a discernible impact on changing the North Korean strategic calculations or outlook on their missile and nuclear programs such that they would be more favorably inclined to negotiate either a freeze, suspension, rollback, and or elimination of the program.

Jim Lindsay:

Do you see any chance that the Biden administration may try to open direct conversations with North Korea or is the Biden administration going to try to operate only in consultation with its allies on the North Korea issue?

Mark Lippert:

What I would say is this. I think the Biden administration is very pragmatic on this question. I think if the North was interested and that probably should have been my first point. Is that the North, as I mentioned earlier, with COVID, with their current negotiating posture, they don't seem overly interested in getting into a serious and credible negotiation. Now, will they take things for free? Absolutely. At some point they will either come back and very much want sanctions relief. And then what does that trade look like is not an unimportant calculation. But right now I think the Biden administration would be open to direct talks. There have been reports in the media of them approaching the North directly.

Mark Lippert:

But hither too, there has been no real interest from the North in engaging in talks. Would it matter in terms of ally? Absolutely. You do have to consult closely with the South. You do have to consult closely with our friends in Tokyo to make sure that folks have an understanding of what's going on. But I do think we've reached a point where if the magic of the United States and North Korea getting into a room would lead to significant progress on this, I think after consultations, our allies would be very much in supportive of such a formulation.

Mark Lippert:

It all comes back to me though that I am less concerned about the diplomatic arrangement. As long as allies and partners are consulted and more focused on what are the North Koreans' strategic calculations and what changes their incentive structure in order to enter into serious, incredible negotiations.

Jim Lindsay:

I take your point, Mark, on the importance of consultation. I imagine many people in the Biden administration wish they'd done a better job on consulting with respect to the AUKUS deal earlier this fall. But I'm also glad that you mentioned Tokyo because it's one we haven't mentioned or discussed so far. And obviously for many Americans looking at Northeast Asia, they think of the United States having a military Alliance with South Korea. The United States has a military Alliance with Japan. The expectation is that since we are friends with both the South Koreans and the Japanese, that by the transitive property, the South Koreans and the Japanese, should get along. But as I imagine, you know well, from your time as being ambassador, there are a great number of tensions and differences in that relationship.

Jim Lindsay:

Maybe you could just give us a little bit of a background on that, but also to what extent there's an opportunity for Japan and South Korea to maybe mend fences a bit. Because obviously for the Biden administration's Indo-Pacific strategy, a foundational pillar is getting America's friends and allies to work together. And that's hard to do when there's essentially a freeze in the tension between key players in the region.

Mark Lippert:

Your description dovetails perfectly with many Americans who came into my office when I was sitting in Seoul as ambassador, asking for explanation why these two allies of the United States, two free market democracies that live in close proximity to each other aren't in a better state of relations between the two capitals. The answer is, is complicated. Obviously there's a colonial history here where Japan colonized and occupied South Korea really up until the end of the end of World War II. Starting in really the early 20th century and it was a very tough colonial period and many South Koreans remember that still very well, especially older generation.

Mark Lippert:

And that issue is still very live, very extant in South Korea today, especially in South Korean politics. That is a key driver of this. And without going too far down this road. This is a long episode that I just really oversimplified, but that I just want to encapsulate it. The answer to your question, are there opportunities for rapprochement? I think absolutely. It's incredibly important for the United States' interests that these two countries get along and work together. And they're important for one, the signal it sends. Especially to countries like North Korea, like China, that they are cooperating.

Mark Lippert:

When the two countries are cooperating and the U.S. is able to sit in sort of a trilateral configuration between the three, that's a powerful signal to the region. The second is there's usually not a complete suspension of what I would say, operational cooperation, between the two countries or three countries. But what it is, everything just gets harder. There's more sand in the gears. The U.S. spends more time working on these issues instead of outwardly focused to other challenges and other dynamic moving pieces in the Indo-Pacific. So those are two key reasons.

Mark Lippert:

Do I think it can get better to come back? Yes I do. And the reason is, is because we've seen it before. In 2015, when I was the U.S. Ambassador, the South Koreans and the Japanese reached a deal on the so-called comfort women, the wianbu, sexual slaves between the two sides. That was a very tough negotiation that spanned several years. But the point is there are windows. And when there are windows, the two sides have a history of negotiating with each other and with the right amount of U.S. Leadership. And I don't mean the U.S. banging heads together or telling the two sides how to do it. That is A, impossible and B, not sustainable. Only the Japanese and Koreans can find the contours of their relationship, but the U.S. can help keep things on track in certain ways and play a bit of a supporting role in 5% to 10% of the cases and that 5% to 10% is important real estate, so to speak. And so I do think the formula exists.

Mark Lippert:

Finally, let's bring it to present day, why I'm optimistic. I'm not saying it's not going to be hard. I'm not saying it's not going to be complicated. But what I am saying is that you have a progressive president in South Korea who at the end of term is starting to turn towards the relationship with Tokyo. Is starting to say, I would say more constructive things. Is starting to offer a way forward. There's also been a temporary freeze on a court case, which I won't go into, but this court case has ramifications about forced labor and Japanese companies that has been an important piece of this relationship over the past year plus.

Mark Lippert:

And there is an election. And we have both sides because the progressive candidate in South Korea has made more noises towards rapprochement, both parties have more cover, I think going forward. Final piece, is you have former foreign minister, Mr. Kishida sitting as Prime Minister in Tokyo, and he was intricately involved in the last time in 2015 when the two sides got together and formalized an agreement on the comfort women issue. So I think the pieces are there. Will the sides pick them up and gather them? Remains to be seen. Still complicated, but I am somewhat optimistic. And maybe that's just because I'm a glass half full kind of guy.

Jim Lindsay:

When I hear talk about Japanese- South Korean relations, I'm often reminded of that famous line by William Faulkner, "That the past is never dead. It's not even passed." And I think it does sort of percolate in current day discussions. One other just issue I want to raise with you, Mark, and that is the issue of Taiwan. Obviously the Chinese have been more sort of aggressive vis à vis Taiwan. More incursions into Taiwan's air defense identification zone, more military exercises. The United States has responded to that by upping it's rhetorical support for Taiwan by getting the Japanese Prime Minister, Mr. Suga, to be a little bit more forward leaning in terms of how Japan viewed Taiwan.

Jim Lindsay:

How is a Taiwan issue being viewed from Seoul? Is it, they're ready to line up behind the United States? Are they trying to avoid being dragged in? Somewhere in between?

Mark Lippert:

I would say that there's active discussion along these lines in terms of both the U.S.-China piece and where Taiwan fits in that. And second, where it fits in as a values oriented piece of foreign policy, the defense of democracies. And I think there is a debate and discussion about this in South Korea, such that it is an unsettled question. Having said all that, there was important movement on this issue in that President Moon and President Biden in their joint statement that accompanied this summit last spring, there was a reference to Taiwan, which I think surprised many observers and analysts.

Mark Lippert:

Again, I think some of this will be folded into the election questions. I think some of this will be a work in progress in terms of the conversations that are had between the United States and South Korea. And I think some of it will depend on the actual external circumstances in and around the Taiwan Strait. I think there is a bit of an argument that does have resonance in South Korea that I've heard some American interlocutors use, which is the important thing now is to, for certain like-minded countries, to voice support for Taiwan so we don't have a problem that could involve military intervention down the road. And that this diplomatic movement and adding to Taiwan's diplomatic space is not an unimportant signal that is sent. And that's where the South Koreans could play a very constructive role. And I'll just leave it at that, Jim.

Jim Lindsay:

Mark, I want to close by asking a personal question, if I may. I have had the pleasure to travel several times to Seoul and host a number of delegations from South Korea here in the United States. And I will say that in talking with my South Korean interlocutors, I have never heard them be so positive about an ambassador as I heard them to talk about your time as ambassador. I believe I'm not alone in that assessment. I will note I was one meeting in Seoul where you were given an award and a very large number of people turned out at the Grand Hyatt in Seoul. I will note that one of the leading newspapers in Seoul has said you are the best envoy that South Korea has received from the United States to date.

Jim Lindsay:

I'm just curious. Can you tell us what's critical to being such a successful ambassador?

Mark Lippert:

It's a vexing question for me, Jim, and look, I'm honored, I'm touched by it. I would say this, my family and I, when we set out to go to Seoul in 2014, I thought, we thought it would be an interesting assignment. But it is something touched us deeply, moved us and has changed our lives. And why did it work? Well, obviously what you didn't say was, I was the victim of a knife attack in Seoul. I think people saw that the United States does not run. We stand and face our challenges as a country, as a government.

Mark Lippert:

And I think there was great relief that I was, I think, not angry. I mean, I was very positive. As you mentioned in the background, I had been in the military so I know that sometimes danger comes with some of these assignments. But I also would say that a big part of this was just being embraced by the South Korean population. You know, we had our two kids born there. We gave them Korean names. We learned the language, we tried to learn the language. It's a very difficult language. And all of that I think played well.

Mark Lippert:

And I think the other point too, Jim, was that being from a bit of a political background, I worked in the United States Senate for 10 years. I understood the importance of connecting with people at the grassroots, so to speak. And we enjoyed that. We enjoyed learning about the culture. So taken together, I think everything from the incident and Seoul that happened to our love of the country, to our kids being born there to just really being intellectually curious and culturally curious people really worked well.

Mark Lippert:

And final point I'll just say this, look ambassadors are very important, but ultimately to use a sailor example, since I am a Naval. You can be the best sea person, seaman, sea woman in the world, but you're largely dependent on the sun and the rain and the tides and the wind. And we caught the relationship at a very unique and good time as well. So it was one of these instances where everything moved in the right direction. But I think I'll stop here and just say, it sure was a great experience. It sure was a lot of fun. We get back to Korea all the time. Our kids are learning Korean and I wake up every day in the summer and watch the Korean baseball organization. So it's just, like I said, it changed the trajectory of our lives, or I think for much for the better.

Jim Lindsay:

I will say you showed immense courage and grace in response to the knife attack. And I think got a lot of admirers for that, but you were getting very high marks even before that. And I am glad that you did mention Korean baseball. I know you're a big fan. I've often heard you talk about it. You want to do a shout out to your favorite team?

Mark Lippert:

I am a huge Doosan Bears fan, and I will just say this. They were predicted to go nowhere. This was a rebuild year. They finished fourth and got all the way back to the Korean series for the seventh straight year that no Korean teams ever done before. So … Doosan.

Jim Lindsay:

On that note, I'm going to close up the President's Inbox for this week. My guest has been Mark Lippert, vice chairman of the Halifax Forum, senior advisor at CSIS and former U.S. Ambassador to South Korea. Mark, thank you for joining me.

Mark Lippert:

Thanks Jim. A real honor, a real pleasure. And I look forward to continuing my role as an avid listener of this great podcast.

Jim Lindsay:

Well, thank you for the kind words. Please subscribe to The President's Inbox on Apple podcast, Spotify, wherever you listen and leave us your review. They help us get noticed and improved the show. The articles and polls mentioned in this episode are listed on the podcast page for The President's Inbox on cfr.org.

Jim Lindsay:

As always opinions expressed in The President's Inbox are solely those of the host or our guests, not of CFR, which takes no institutional positions on matters of policy. Today's episode is produced by Zoe Collis with senior producer, Jeremy Sherlick. Zoe did double duty as our recording engineer. Thank you, Zoe. Special thanks brought to Margaret Gach for her assistance. This is Jim Lindsay. Thanks for listening.

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