Joe Dunford’s Holiday Shopping List: 2016 Edition


We all have our holiday shopping lists at this time of year, and the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Joseph Dunford is no different. But it is safe to say that unlike our shopping lists, his holiday list has more cross-outs and write-ins since November 8. (Good thing he’s not an early shopper!)

Your loyal “Strategic Outpost” columnists managed to snag a copy of this closely held shopping list this year, complete with handwritten “notes-to-self” in the margins. (We’ll never reveal our sources, of course, but let’s just say that people in a certain service are acting a bit crazy after winning a very special football game for the first time in 14 years). So, here’s a peek at what Marine Gen. Dunford, the senior-most military officer in the most powerful uniformed military in the world, is scrambling to get in hand and wrapped before the stores shutter on December 24.

1. Copies of Tom Ricks’ book Making the Corps for the entire staffs of the Office of the Secretary of Defense and Department of Homeland Security. Understanding the Marine Corps culture might just come in handy for the coming Marine Republic. And, learn to pronounce it right: It’s OOH-rah!

2. An inscribed copy of Assignment Pentagon: How to Excel in a Bureaucracy, 4th Edition, for my old mentor and wartime boss Jim Mattis. The perfect gift for the guy who now has decided that he’s missed something by spending most of his military career outside Washington. Boy, Jimbo, are you in for some fun! Welcome back to the world’s largest bureaucracy. Bwaahaha!!!

3. The new Worldwide Twitter Command and Control System (WWTCCS) for the Combatant Commanders. Who needs expensive and classified space-based, hardened comms when you can now start World War III from a smart phone and a Twitter account? Think of the savings! And, it’s the only way they are guaranteed to have the new commander-in-chief’s undivided attention pretty much 24/7 – and without all those pesky national security staffers in the way.

4. Full box sets of The West Wing for the Trump White House transition team. It’s the best possible training video on “how to be a functioning White House staff” — with bonus tips available from The West Wing Weekly Serious people working hard to do good stuff — while also having a sense of humor. You could learn a lot from them!

5. A shiny, black Magic 8 Ball for the nation’s intelligence community. It’s pretty obvious that they are going to need something to convince President Trump that their threat assessments are accurate. Happy days with Russia? “Outlook not so good.”

6. Weekly deliveries of TV Guide to the principals on the National Security Council. There’s just no way these leaders will keep up with the new POTUS’ prime source of critical information without this essential and always timely reference. Let’s just scrap those thick briefing books, folks.

7. A year-long subscription to High Times for incoming National Security Advisor Mike Flynn. Here’s a guy who clearly needs to take advantage of the new DC marijuana laws to ease the harsh on his mellow back down to levels normal people would call simply “agitated.”

8. An official “New U.S. Allies Welcome Packet” for Vladimir Putin. Because that’s just something you never thought you would find yourself actually saying out loud.

9. The companion volume: Co-Dependent No More for all the long-standing U.S. allies around the world trying to fathom where they stand in the new U.S. foreign policy. (Make sure to wrap this one in the same box as a 4-year prescription for Prozac to steady their quivering nerves.)

10. All 33 seasons of the TV series Survivor for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. On second thought, looks like he’s already figured this one out. Never mind.

11. The complete first season of The Apprentice for Chinese President Xi Jinping. If Comrade Xi really wants to understand what makes his counterpart in the White House tick, the “you’re fired” conclusion of each episode should give him a pretty good idea. Think “nations” instead of “contestants,” and he’ll get the picture.

12. Subscriptions to the Weekly World News and the National Enquirer for the Joint Staff. The new must-reads for staying up to date on breaking and entirely factual U.S. and international news. Some key headlines my staff missed include “Donald Trump Buys Scranton,” and “Ted Cruz Father Linked to JFK Assassination!” (And it’s really easy to cross-check stories for accuracy at Breitbart News or Russia Today.)

13. A copy of The Art of the Deal for every foreign service officer at Foggy Bottom. Obviously, if they were already any good at making deals for the United States, they would have gotten an award from Vladimir Putin instead of Rex Tillerson.

14. A single black rotary dial phone for the entire National Security Council staff to use when calling the Pentagon, one at a time. In other words, don’t call us, we’ll call you. (And by the way, all Pentagon phone numbers are now classified TS/SCI/NO-NSC.)

15. Long-handled rollers and buckets of navy blue, red, and silver paint along with a giant five-letter stencil for the crews who maintain Air Force One and Marine One. Because this is inevitable.

16. An advanced air defense early warning receiver for Santa and his sleigh. He and the reindeer need at least a year to practice their jamming, spoofing, and evasion tactics — because by next year, I’m pretty sure it’s gonna be “shoot first, ask questions later” at any conceivable entryway to the United States of America.

17. Finally, a set of prescription RayBans, board shorts, and SPF 55 sunscreen for my soon-to-be-former boss Ash Carter, for his extended beach vacation in 2017, along with his most important post-Pentagon accessory: a full case of well-aged Jack Daniels. (I really wish I could be sunning on that beach too, but somebody has to keep an eye on that briefcase with the nuclear codes.)

With that dear readers, we wish you success with all of your own last-minute holiday shopping! We look forward to an exciting 2017 and will return in January with more incisive national security analysis sprinkled with a regular dash of humor. Happy holidays!


Lt. Gen. 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 third Tuesday. To sign up for Barno and Bensahel’s Strategic Outpost newsletter, where you can track their articles as well as their public events, click here.