Ash Carter’s 2015 Letter to Santa


Dear Santa,

You may not remember me, but I’m the guy who directs NORAD to keep the airspace open for your reindeer at Christmas. I’ve been a very good boy for my whole first year at the Pentagon. So I hope you save all the coal in your bag for those naughty boys and girls across the Potomac, who haven’t yet passed a permanent spending bill even though we’re almost three months into the fiscal year!

My list this year isn’t short — and I know some of this stuff is expensive — but after all, I’m used to dealing with a $600-billion budget. So here goes!

  • A fleet of T-70 X-Wing fighters. Don’t tell Mrs. Claus, but I’m willing to trade in $400 billion of F-35s for almost anything. Can you believe that I’m paying up to $150 million apiece for these things? Compared to F-35s, X-Wings look really cool, they’ve got a droid helping the pilot, and they’ve got to be cheaper.
  • A sand shovel, pail, and dump truck set. I need to get into the reef-building business myself pretty soon or all I’m going be able to do is watch new islands pop up all over the Pacific while we just fly by. We’re missing the wave here. Maybe make that two sets, with extra sunscreen.
  • 22,408 kilometers of 3M Hazard Warning Tape. Maybe if I mark Russia’s land borders with bright colored tape, it will help remind Vladimir Putin to keep his troops on his side of the border. I know it’s a long shot, but it’s worth a try. (And if the elves happen to have an extra copy of the Treaty of Westphalia lying around, I’ll take that too.)
  • 535 TI-36X Pro digital calculators. I want to give one to every member of Congress, since they can’t seem to do defense math. I’m a techie, but using this calculator is pretty straightforward — after punching in the numbers, it tells me that we need to close dozens of excess bases across the country or everything turns red. And I’m pretty sure my friends on the Hill are doing math in their heads, since I can’t get any of their numbers on military pay, benefits, or health care to add up either.
  • 4 Transformer play sets. Only in the Defense Department is “transformer” a dirty word. I plan to give one to each of the service chiefs during a special meeting in the tank. They get two hours to play, and then the winner with the best idea gets an extra $1 billion in their service’s 2017 budget. I bet they’ll come up with some truly mind-bending transformative moves if I leave them unsupervised without their staff.
  • A confirmation Magic Ray Gun. With one service secretary and a bunch of other civilian spots vacant, I need some help here. Zapping up some speedy hearings for these folks would help make my 2016 happy.
  • A Delorean time machine. Marty McFly never got the mileage out of this gullwing beauty that I could. Time-traveling would make my job so much easier! (Invade Iraq in 2003? Let me tell you how that’s going to turn out. Overthrow Qaddafi? Maybe not. Arab Spring? Don’t forget the other three seasons). And on those really bad days, I could zoom ahead to January 21, 2017 — because as soon as this gig ends, I’ll be sitting on a warm beach in Aruba sipping fruity drinks with umbrellas.
  • An Oculus Rift. I know they won’t be released until early 2016, but I figure you of all people can get me one early. After long, hard days at the Pentagon, it’d be nice to escape into another world for a while, especially if it’s the euphoric universe where every problem has easy fixes — the one that every 2016 presidential candidate sees! That would be grand!
  • An industrial size bottle of Maximum Bond Krazy Glue. It’s the only thing I can think of that will help stick Iraq, Syria, Libya, and the rest of the greater Middle East back together. This might take a whole case, come to think of it.
  • A Red Ryder BB Gun. I need at least one weapon in the Department of Defense that costs less than a million dollars to produce and use. Just one. And no bells, no whistles, no Milestone B, no Nunn-McCurdy. And I promise I won’t shoot my eye out!
  • 25. Ok, this one is just for me. Adele is awesome. The talent, the emotion, the heartbreak — the perfect way to unwind after a long day. Mmmmmmmm.

Ok, Santa, that’s it! I’ve got reindeer food right by the River Entrance, and cookies and milk waiting on the E-ring between Corridors 8 and 9. And remember, it’s the only Washington building with five sides you can see from the air! Don’t get lost!

Happy holidays!

Love, Ash


Lt. General David W. Barno, USA (Ret.) is a Distinguished Practitioner in Residence, and Dr. Nora Bensahel is a Distinguished Scholar in Residence, at the School of International Service at American University. Both also serve as Nonresident Senior Fellows at the Atlantic Council. Their column appears in War on the Rocks every other Tuesday.

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