Strategic Outpost Brings You Santa’s 2022 National Security Gift List 

Santa Claus on USS Nimitz

Happy holidays to all you national security nerds out there! This is red-nosed Rudolph checking in for Santa this year. The old man has asked me to share his gift list for the season with you while he and Mrs. Claus battle all the leaks in their gingerbread house. That global warming thing is kicking our reindeer butt up here! 

Thankfully, we have a bit more to celebrate this year, after two pandemic holiday seasons! The elves have gleefully flung off their masks and are cranking out a record-setting pile of goodies to deliver on Christmas Eve! I can’t share all of Santa’s gift plans with you, but here’s what he has in store for some of the luminaries in your world — whether they’ve been naughty or nice!

Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin. With almost two years in the job, everyone in the Pentagon has now discovered a core element of Secretary Austin’s personality: The man is serious. In fact, the last time anyone saw him really smile was as a lieutenant colonel. So Santa wants to help him lighten up a little bit with a special gift to start nudging that intimidating personality ever-so-slightly toward the happy smiling person that the OSD staff would deeply love to see: a Ted Lasso’s Rules for Living notebook! Who could provide a better, happier, more upbeat role model than Coach Ted? The next time you’re trapped in yet another interminable meeting, just flip forward a couple of pages and follow his advice to “be curious, not judgmental” and “be a goldfish.” With as many as two years (or more) trapped in left to enjoy this important job, channeling the world’s most upbeat coach might your only hope of survival! 



National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan. Just in time for the holiday season, you finally published the administration’s National Security Strategy! But for a guy who works 18-hour days, taking almost two years to get out the baseline document for the nation’s security is… well, not great, even if the invasion of Ukraine did slow you down a bit. (Besides, word up here is that Austin had the Pentagon’s version finished way back in the spring — why not just cut and paste?) Anyway, to help you better meet your suspenses for the next two years, Santa is sending you a fully functioning sun dial to put outside your West Wing office — with the hope that it will let you slow time down a bit to stretch out those future deadlines from the boss. 

Secretary of State Antony Blinken. Santa was delighted that after months of hard work, you managed to spring WNBA star and two-time Olympic gold medalist Brittney Griner from the Russian gulag just in time for Christmas! Well done to the usually invisible Foggy Bottom team! To say thanks for the great work, Santa is sending you two gifts this year: a DVD of Bridge of Spies, his favorite prisoner exchange movie set during the Cold War, and tickets to every Phoenix Mercury game during the 2023 season — so you can see Brittney back on the court!

General Secretary Xi Jinping. It’s been a truly big year for the great leader – voted into a lifelong job leading the largest country on the planet, and having the world’s most successful COVID control scheme (ah, well, no one’s perfect). But as you turn more inward, Santa wants to help you keep up with what’s really going on in the world (and your own country). Santa is sending print subscriptions to The New York Times, the Washington Post, and the Economist – so you don’t have to drill through your own Great Firewall to find out things aren’t going super well at home. 

Russian President Vladimir Putin. Congratulations on leaping to the top of Santa’s naughty list. The elves already set aside a Big Ass Lump of Coal for you, but Santa wanted to look ahead to what’s next for you. He used his special Santa powers to get you enrolled in the U.S. military’s Transition Assistance Program, which helps troops transition to civilian life after their time in uniform. Yep, it’s time for you to start thinking about writing resumes and practicing interviews on how to land a dictator job somewhere else, since your long-term prospects in Russia don’t seem all that sunny. And just in case you can’t find another big country to run, Santa’s throwing in a copy of Living the RV Life: The Ultimate Guide to Life on the Road, because he’s guessing you’re not gonna feel safe staying in one place for very long. 

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky. You didn’t hear it from me, but Santa has a total man-crush on this guy, whose approval ratings are even higher than his! Who knew this era’s Churchill would be a buff former TV comic? What do you get a guy who just got named Time’s Person of the Year? Santa’s toy Javelin missiles and HIMARS rockets probably won’t quite fill the bill for Zelensky’s stocking this Christmas, but at least Santa can help him stay well-dressed. He’ll be dropping off a pallet of olive green t-shirts for the man who turned them into a statement of resolve and resistance.  

Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Mark Milley. If you thought playing hockey at Princeton was bruising, getting checked into the boards by both the left and right as Chairman must have been one of those job “benefits” nobody told you about! But the end of the tunnel is in sight — sometime in the late summer or fall, you will finally be a free man! For your first glorious days out of uniform, Santa is sending you something that might be useful after a truly rough run: Loving Yourself: The Mastery of Being Your Own Person. It’ll help bring out that warm and cuddly you, which Santa knows is hidden away in there behind that steely glare. 

Army Chief of Staff Gen. James McConville. Santa originally planned to give you 20,000 toy soldiers to help out with the Army’s recruiting crisis, but then he realized that would be too cruel. But your luck seems to be changing, since that Navy fumble led Army to win that double overtime thriller! In honor of your tremendous victory, Santa has ordered the elves to work double overtime producing extra official U.S. Army helicopter playsets! Who knew that the Army actually shares its official brand logo with kids toys? And on the back of every box: “Learn what it means to be a U.S. Army Soldier at” What a great recruiting move! Just keep that new helicopter program on schedule, and you should have a nice pool of pilot recruits when those kids finally turn 18! 

Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Michael Gilday. So you just lost the Army-Navy game in embarrassing fashion. Who cares? You already crushed 2022 with the runaway success of Top Gun: Maverick, the Navy’s favorite recruiting movie! Santa couldn’t help but note, though, that you and Tom Cruise both turned 60 this year! Your military career has clearly surpassed his, since he’s still just a captain — but I gotta be honest, he looks a heck of a lot better than you. Since serving in the real Navy clearly puts a whole lot more age on a body than being a Hollywood star, Santa is giving you some of Tom’s secrets for looking like 30 when he’s… well, your age. Enjoy!

Commandant of the Marine Corps Gen. David Berger. Santa has been quietly rooting for Berger as he seeks to transform his service, in everything from talent management to force design. But it looks like foreign foes will be far easier to vanquish than the disgruntled former Marine senior leaders who are fighting these changes. But no worries — Santa has a perfect gift this year: a case of Goo Gone! Rub this stuff over the retirement orders of all of these cranky aging poohbahs and they will be instantly transported back to their favorite corner of Marine Corps history in the last century, where their thinking will fit right in. (Santa won’t admit it, but I’m pretty sure I overheard him joking that “Goo” actually stands for General Officers Over-the-hill!)

Chief of Staff of the Air Force Gen. Charles Q. Brown. You’ve already had a pretty good year, since you guys snagged the coveted Commander-in-Chief’s Trophy for the first time in six years. But Santa knows that the best part of your year was basking in the holiday glow of the new B-21 Raider bomber roll out — what a cool ride! He was so impressed with the Raider numbers — under cost, under schedule, half the final price tag of the billion-dollar B-2 — that he wants you to send him your secret so he can wrap it as a gift for the other service chiefs! You better start slacking off in those Tank meetings, though. If you keep up those kind of amazing results, you could find yourself spending four more years on the E-ring as the next chairman (a fate that Santa wouldn’t even wish on the Grinch)!

Chief of Space Operations Gen. B. Chance Saltzman. You clearly have a full plate, what with the increasing threat from China in outer space, and having to convince lots of people that you actually lead a military service. But Santa knows that your highest priority really needs to be fixing that terrible Space Force anthem! It’s been rightly panned as “stodgy and old-fashioned,” “not a banger,” and my personal favorite, “the verbal word salad version of a bad Air Force painting.” So this year, Santa is giving you unlimited reproduction rights to the anthem that your predecessor really should have chosen: the Space Force Theme song, brought to you by the clever guys at Songify This. Just be careful, because the song is a total earworm — the elves have been humming it in the workshop for months!

Coast Guard Commandant Adm. Linda L. Fagan. Santa congratulates you on becoming, at last, the first woman service chief! He wishes he could give you some actual icebreakers, but those have been delayed again. In the meantime, though, he’s going to give you the next best thing: a 3D printed icebreaker for your bathtub! Just add your favorite bubble bath to emulate the froth of the sea, since the real ones won’t see the ocean until at least 2025.

U.S. INDOPACOM Commander Adm. John Aquilino. Did you know that Santa likes to listen to podcasts in his workshop? He listened to a recent episode of The North Pole News Dispatch that featured a story about a new unclassified wargame about the invasion of Taiwan, and the results weren’t pretty at all. The U.S. players usually lose two aircraft carriers, hundreds of aircraft, and more than a dozen surface ships. That doesn’t sound like a fun game at all. Fortunately, we know how to make games better up here at the North Pole! Santa has sent all of the elves back into the workshop to crank out lots of new blue U.S. pieces for that next game, so you have a fighting chance! (Reindeer really like puns, in case you didn’t know!)

U.S. EUCOM Commander Gen. Chris Cavoli and NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg. Things are a-popping in your part of the world this year, and Santa’s worried that your sleigh seems to be overflowing with almost too many problems to handle. But he knows a bit about juggling ever-growing holiday demands every year, and how to get all of his unruly reindeer on the team so his sleigh isn’t yanked all over the Christmas skies! Santa figured those techniques might be handy for both of you, as you try to cajole one particularly recalcitrant ally into ratifying alliance membership for Sweden and Finland. So he’s planning to share some of the secrets of his success, cleverly disguised as a children’s book. Just don’t leave this out on your desks — it could accidentally end up on your professional reading lists for the year! 

Dr. Anthony Fauci. Santa knows that there is no one looking forward to the end of 2022 — and the last three years — more that you. Congratulations on your impending retirement after serving the United States and its people for more than 50 years. For a soon-to-be 82-year old who looks as good as you, Santa is sending you two first class tickets on the Viking World Cruise, which will take you to 28 countries in 138 days — and requires no more appearances before the press! Seriously, from all of us vaccinated and boosted elves and reindeer here at the North Pole who are so happy to be mostly maskless this year — thank you!

And that’s it from the top of the world! Santa and I hope you enjoy these light-hearted holiday suggestions and take this gentle poking of fun at luminaries across the natsec world in the spirit of holiday cheer! We all hope you can share the joys of this holiday season with those you love, and reflect on all of our many blessings. From all of us here at the North Pole (and your loyal Strategic Outpost columnists), best wishes for the holidays and a bright and happy New Year!

With special Christmas wishes from Santa’s leaky basement, 




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 regularly. Sign up for Barno and Bensahel’s Strategic Outpost newsletter to track their articles as well as their public events.


Image: Photo by Petty Officer 1st Class David Mercil