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A Foreign Policy Type Who Walks the Walk

By Al Kamen
Friday, October 2, 2009

A senior foreign policy adviser in the Obama administration will leave the White House in the next week or so, returning to military service for another deployment as an intelligence officer with the Navy SEALs. Mark Lippert, a naval reservist, is the deputy national security adviser for operations and serves as chief of staff of the National Security Council. Before President Obama took office, Lippert was his top foreign policy aide in the Senate.

Lippert missed much of the presidential campaign when he was deployed to Iraq for a year in 2007-2008. This time he is expected to be deployed for six to nine months.

In a statement, Obama called Lippert a "close friend" and said he "will always have a senior foreign policy position in this White House, when he chooses to return to civilian life."

Lippert's move sparked some movement at the top ranks of the NSC. Denis McDonough, who is now deputy national security adviser for strategic communications, takes over for Lippert as NSC chief of staff.

Ben Rhodes, who had been a top foreign policy aide during the presidential campaign and is now a White House speechwriter, will move to the NSC to take McDonough's job.

Nate Tibbits, formerly a top official with the think tank the Center for a New American Security and now in the office of presidential personnel, was named executive secretary of the NSC.

ON THE ENVOY TRACK

There's buzz that Lisbon, the last primo embassy post in Europe -- now that Rome, Paris, Madrid and London are spoken for -- looks to be going to yet another big-time Obama campaign fundraiser. The leading contender for the Portugal posting is said to be Tallahassee lawyer Allan Katz, a member of the Democratic National Committee and, more important, a member of the 2008 campaign's national finance committee.

Katz is a former Tallahassee city commissioner who bundled more than half a million dollars for the Obama effort. In the mid-1970s he was legislative director for Rep. David Obey (D-Wis.), and before that he was a legislative assistant to then-Rep. Bill Gunter (D-Fla.).

Mega-bundlers for Obama 2008 -- these would be people who raised more than $500,000 -- have done pretty well on the cushy postings, filling or likely to fill spots in fine embassies in France, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Australia, Austria, South Africa, Belgium, Portugal, the European Union, Finland and Japan. Other big bundlers landed embassies in England and Norway. Not that they aren't superb picks, each and every one, and likely to turn out to be excellent, knowledgeable diplomats and all that. But we suspect they might not have landed those jobs had they been, say, working phone banks during the campaign.

SETTLING IN

The Obama administration is under intense pressure from liberal Democrats to resist escalation in Afghanistan and to plan instead for a dramatic scale-down of the U.S. presence there. But there are signs the administration isn't thinking of going in that direction.

The State Department announced Thursday that it will award a $209 million contract to build a new office annex (NOX) and housing at the embassy in Kabul. The scheduled completion date is February 2012.

The construction project is a joint venture of ECC International Constructors and Tepe-Metag JV of Virginia Beach, the announcement said. The idea is to "provide safe, secure and functional facilities for employees who will work and . . . reside at the embassy."

Many of the hundreds of embassy employees are still living in trailers brought in shortly after the U.S. reestablished relations with Afghanistan after the fall of the Taliban in 2002. Others are in pretty nice apartments with kitchens, living rooms and such, but additional civilians have maxed out the available real estate.

The new annex will provide 124,000 square feet of office space, enough for about 545 desks, the State Department says, and there will be about 145,000 square feet of housing built for nearly 200 additional units.

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STRIPPED OF AN AWARD

And finally, this in from Dallas: Local businesswoman Dawn Rizos says she was set to receive the prestigious Entrepreneur of the Year award for her business prowess from American Solutions for Winning the Future, which is chaired by former House speaker Newt Gingrich, the Associated Press reports.

But then Rizos, who owns the Lodge, a popular Dallas topless club, says the group asked for her to join and pony up $5,000. Later, the group rescinded the award and, even worse, the accompanying private dinner with Gingrich next week in Washington at the Capitol Hill Club.

Apparently the Gingrich group confused Rizos's business with one by the same name in Virginia, according to the AP. Rizos says she's disappointed. She had been looking forward to sharing her political views and her concerns about privacy with Gingrich.

And what a photo op!

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