Strategic Outpost Exclusive: Santa’s 2018 NatSec Gift List

December 18, 2018
natsec giftguide2

To celebrate the long-awaited holiday season, Strategic Outpost continues its annual holiday tradition by taking you inside Santa’s North Pole workshop! This year we managed to break into his inner sanctum and snag a copy of his gift list for the high flyers and the heavy hitters who help make up the U.S. national security landscape. (We’ll never reveal how we did it, but let’s just say that elves love eggnog-flavored vodka.) See how your list compares to Santa’s for this year’s luminaries, both naughty and nice!

Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis: As a reminder of the “civil” in civil-military relations, a great book by Kori Schake and – wait for it – Jim Mattis: Warriors and Citizens: American Views of Our Military. (Suggestions for Volume 2? The Role of a Free Press in a Democracy; How Civilian Control of the Military Should Work; The Military Oversight Role of Congress; and The Vital Role of Women in National Defense.)

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo: A pair of “Tweety Boy” Trump and “Little Kim” Rocketman collectibles for your Foggy Bottom office, so you can practice your persuasive skills with the Dear Leader and your Oval Office boss before your next trip to the peninsula. Stocking stuffer: a gift-wrapped copy of The Interview for that next long flight to Pyongyang. (It’s a big hit in North Korea. And at SONY. Really.)

Secretary of Homeland Security Kirstjen Nielsen: A vintage copy of Army Field Manual FM 5-15, Field Fortifications, which covers such key topics as Obstacle Employment (Chapter 5), Barbed Wire Entanglements (Chapter 6), and Anti-Vehicular Obstacles (Chapter 7). (We also have it on good authority that each of the more than 5,000 troops deployed at the southern border is sending her a copy of the classic 2000 Jim Carrey film How the Grinch Stole Christmas. Good luck, Amazon delivery people.)

National Security Advisor John Bolton: The KOBRA 300 SS5 Strip Cut Paper Shredder, for those industrial-size jobs of shredding INF treaties, NAFTA agreements, Iranian nuclear accords, Paris climate agreements, and any other U.S. commitments within reach. This heavy-duty model is capable of destroying even the most momentous and longstanding U.S. agreements. Special feature: high-visibility warning signs prohibiting use around the Constitution and Bill of Rights.

CIA Director Gina Haspel: The TMSoft White Noise app for your secure iPhone, which automatically fills your ears with white noise every time someone on Capitol Hill mentions the phrase “bone saw.”

Incoming Chairman of the House Armed Services Committee Rep. Adam Smith: Unlimited refills of your high blood pressure medication. You’ll need it for dealing with a Pentagon that is, well, just not that into you. Or your committee. Or your branch of government. (Good luck!!!)

Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Joe Dunford: A “Plans for World Domination” lined journal for you and every member of the Joint Staff. The Combatant Commands and the services have figured out what you’re up to; you might as well be transparent about it.

Civilians in the Office of the Secretary of Defense: Never Give Up: Relentless Determination to Overcome Life’s Challenges. ‘Nuff said.

Army Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Milley: Now that you’ve been tapped by the president as the next chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, anonymous Defense Department acquisition authorities have quietly asked Santa to remove something from your stocking: that well-worn DVD box set of Band of Brothers. After you went back to World War II for the Army’s new/old Class A uniform, the Pentagon acquisition gurus are worried that your first budget request to Congress will include bazookas, wooden stock M-1 rifles, and P-51 Mustang fighters. Who needs robotics, artificial intelligence, and stealthy F-35s when you have Easy Company for inspiration?

Marine Corps Commandant Gen. Bob Neller: Because it’s so rare to see the Marine Corps envy the Army, the special double-box gift set of Band of Brothers and The Pacific. Watching these two landmark HBO miniseries might help you take a page from Milley’s clever retro moves and figure out all the World War II stuff the Corps didn’t know it needed to outfit 21st-century marines. Already under consideration: requiring all marines to learn Navajo to eliminate the need for all those pricey secure radios.

Chief of Naval Operations Adm. John Richardson: A private session with Project Runway stylist Heidi Klum, to help design the uniforms for the next Army-Navy game. Army went all out with a sleek all-black tribute to the Big Red One’s role in World War I, complete with a 48-star American flag, enlisted rank insignia, and black lions on their shoulders. Navy’s uniforms for this year’s football classic honored a goat. You lost that game before you ever took the field.

Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. David Goldfein: The “NUXNET” computer worm that replaces every known usage of “Space Force” with “Air Force” on all .mil accounts. No virus is yet available to erase the brainwaves of its biggest proponent, but in the meantime, there’s hope that he might just forget he directed it at all.

Chief of National Guard Bureau Gen. Joseph Lengyel: For the nerdy F-16 pilot who has everything but cavalry experience, a combination gift set of six horseback riding lessons and a crisp new olive drab felt campaign hat (courtesy of the Army National Guard), in case you get picked to lead that next Pancho Villa Expedition along the southern border. Giddyap!

Coast Guard Commandant Adm. Karl Schultz: Cheer Up! The Ultimate Party Game. Keep this one wrapped in your drawer until that moment of despair when Congress cancels those new icebreakers you have on order, because the newly released Fourth National Climate Assessment says there won’t be much ice left to break.

Commander of U.S. Indo-Pacific Command Adm. Phil Davidson: A copy of Hello, My Name is Awesome: How to Create Brand Names That Stick. As one of the jacket reviewers notes, “in the current business climate where standing out and being remembered are critical to success, your name had better be awesome.” Man, you definitely should have gotten this gift last Christmas. My bad.

Commander of U.S. Forces Korea Gen. Robert Abrams: A White House-approved deluxe version of the board game Stratego, so you’ll have some way to practice defending the peninsula against a North Korean invasion – without actually having an exercise program. Let’s hope the Dear Leader doesn’t complain to POTUS again, or next year you’ll be down to Tic-Tac-Toe.

Supreme Allied Commander Europe Gen. Curtis Scaparotti: A copy of Dale Carnegie’s longtime international bestseller How to Win Friends and Influence People, because trying to convince our perplexed European allies that we’re still on the same team now occupies every single day of your life.

U.S. Ambassador to South Korea Adm. (ret.) Harry Harris: Annual roundtrip tickets for “consultations” in sunny Australia. Yes, that could have been you soaking up the rays in Canberra and worrying about…well, pretty much nothing. Sorry, dude.

The Pentagon press corps: Unlimited in-game purchases for Candy Crush Saga, Clash of Clans, and Fortnite – so you can stay occupied as you kill the months of boredom between now and the SecDef’s next press conference.

Strategic Outpost columnists David Barno and Nora Bensahel: Nondescript-looking official disguises so we can continue to tread the halls of the Pentagon anonymously after raising a few hackles with some of our 2018 columns. If you think that suggesting the U.S. military has an abundance of dangerous blind spots is contentious, just try critiquing a service’s new fitness test!!!

So that’s the inside scoop from the North Pole! We hope Santa’s gifts will make at least a few of the big names in the national security world (and all of you) a bit happier over the holidays. To all of our friends, colleagues, and loyal readers – best wishes from Strategic Outpost for a terrific holiday season! We’ll see you again in 2019!


Lt. Gen. David W. Barno, U.S. Army (Ret.) and Dr. Nora Bensahel are Visiting Professors of Strategic Studies at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies and Senior Fellows at the Philip Merrill Center for Strategic Studies. They are also Contributing Editors at War on the Rocks, where their column appears monthly. Sign up for Barno and Bensahel’s Strategic Outpost newsletter to track their articles as well as their public events.

Image: Filip Patock