Victor Cha Expected to Be Nominated as Next US Ambassador to South Korea

This is actually a name that has been floating out there for quite some time:

Victor Cha

The Trump administration plans to name a Washington-based academic and former White House official, Victor Cha, as the next US ambassador to South Korea, an administration official said on Tuesday.

Cha is a former director for Asian affairs on the White House National Security Council and served as deputy head of the US delegation in multilateral talks with North Korea over its nuclear program during the administration of President George W. Bush.

An administration official said he expected the appointment, which will be subject to a Senate confirmation hearing, to be announced “soon,” and added that it had “been in the works for a long time.”  [Business Insider]

You can read more at the link, but his appointment is not going to make the academic crowd advocating for engagement with North Korea happy.

Is Victor Cha A Bad Candidate for US Ambassador to South Korea?

That is what this editorial in the Korea Times is claiming:

Victor Cha

This means that who the next U.S. ambassador to Seoul will be is ever more important. He or she should be communicative with Koreans and have Trump’s trust ― giving a nudge when the president wobbles and making sure it gets noted. In that sense, Victor Cha, a former Bush operative and professor at Georgetown couldn’t be a worse candidate, according to five people in the know.

Putting their suggestions together, the result is Cha, who would act as if he were Caesar the Conqueror, trying to get his way no matter what at the risk of a great deal of friction with the Moon Jae-in government. That would be possible and dangerous because he, if appointed, would exert influence at key junctures when his boss was distracted, and the North’s asymmetric threat will peak. Some say that it is better now without a resident at Habib House in Seoul than Cha in it.  [Korea Times]

You can read the rest at link, but basically since Cha is not a supporter of engagement with North Korea the academics the Korea Times spoke with think he is a bad choice for US ambassador.

From a military perspective something that I know Victor Cha has pushed for in the past is to have Seoul take over OPCON of Korean forces.  This is something that left wing ROK presidents wanted in the past and then when the US called their bluff on this issue they started playing delay games until a conservative president took power and put it off entirely.  I think Cha would probably also be a strong advocate for the ROK to pay more for the US-ROK alliance which is another key President Trump initiative.

Mark Lippert Tapped To Become the Next US Ambassador to South Korea

Congratulations to Mark Lippert for being picked as the next US ambassador to South Korea:

Mark Lippert via Wikipedia.

Mark Lippert, one of U.S. President Barack Obama’s oldest and closest aides, has been nominated to be the United States’ next ambassador to South Korea.
Multiple diplomatic sources say the U.S. government notified Seoul of the impending announcement during President Obama’s visit to the nation last week.

If confirmed by the U.S. Senate, Lippert will replace the current ambassador, Sung Kim, in the second half of the year.  Kim, who’s three-year term is nearing an end, is expected to return to the State Department in September. As for Lippert’s credentials, the 41-year-old is currently Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel’s chief of staff. At the age of 32, he became the foreign policy advisor to then-Senator Barack Obama.

Four years later he was appointed as National Security Council chief of staff, and in 2012 as Assistant Secretary of Defense for Asian and Pacific Security Affairs.  [Arirang News]

You can read more at the link, but reading Lippert’s biography of note is the fact he joined the Naval reserve in 2005 and deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan as an intelligence officer.  Something that caused some controversy was that while serving on active duty he was accused of still receiving his $147,500 White House salary.  He is also accused of having a history of leaking information to the media to discredit rivals.  This is supposedly why former Defense Secretary Robert Gates did not want him in the Pentagon and he was moved over there after Chuck Hagel took over:

We’re also told that former Defense Secretary Robert Gates was opposed to Lippert’s appointment at the Pentagon and the White House was waiting until Gates was gone. Gates was a staunch defender of Jones and might have held a grudge against Lippert. Also, Gates might have been wary of having someone who is so close to the White House embedded in the Office of the Secretary of Defense, especially one with a history of leaking and insubordination. Republican critics also say he lacks the qualifications for the job of being the Pentagon’s top Asia policy official.

“Lippert is a guy who has no experience working in the Pentagon, no qualifications for leading defense policy on East Asia, and who is super close to the White House,” said one Bush administration Asia official. “Other than that, he’s perfect for the job.” [Foreign Policy]

 

His East Asia experience is studying Mandarin at Peking University as part of his graduate school program at Stanford and then in 2012 when he became the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Asian and Pacific Security Affairs at the Pentagon when Secretary Hagel took over.  As far as specific experience with South Korea I have not seen anything.  Overall though if you read about him he is a major insider within the Obama administration, which should mean the Korean government will have someone at the US embassy with ready access to the White House.

It is expected that one of Lippert’s biggest tasks will be to try and get South Korea and Japan to better cooperate with each other politically and militarily.  Good luck with that.