Strategic Outpost Brings You Santa’s 2023 National Security Gift List

Santa Splash

Greetings from the North Pole! Santa here, once again giving you a sneak peek into my holiday gift list for some of the movers and shakers in the U.S. national security world. When I started working on my list this season, I discovered that nearly all of my favorite four-stars from the past few years have now left the building. I hope they’re enjoying their retirement, as their successors toil endlessly on all the problems of today’s world.

The elves have been putting in lots of overtime to help me figure out the best gifts for so many new people this year, but they’ve done a great job! So, here’s what I’ve got in store to help these grand poohbahs unplug just a bit and celebrate the holidays in style!



Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin. After almost three years on the job, Santa is amazed that this guy just keeps on going and going — and that nothing seems to stick to him! Rudolph suggested giving him some Teflon spray, but he doesn’t seem to need it! What he might need, though, is an extra dose of energy to get through year four. Thankfully, the North Pole G4 still has a few extra cases of what we delivered to servicemembers in Iraq and Afghanistan for years: Monster energy drinks! Just slam one or two down before that next meeting in the Sit Room to keep you going!

National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan. Poor Jake. Every month seems to give you a new major crisis, from Ukraine to Gaza to … well, who knows what is coming next? Between your globe-trotting to arm-twist allies to your late nights in the West Wing, Santa is really starting to worry about your health and the looks of your skinny frame! So Santa is prescribing a a week of mandatory vacation in the teepees at Shenandoah National Park, far away from any SCIFs and way out of cell phone range

Secretary of State Antony Blinken. Yeah, you’re a fine diplomat. But I’ve just stumbled upon some secret intelligence that your true talent in life is playing the electric guitar! But you gotta loosen up, man — what would your idol Eric Clapton think about you jamming while wearing a fully buttoned-up suit?!? So we’re going to set you up with the folks who created the spectacular outfits that Beyoncé wore during the Renaissance tour this summer. As you travel the world for your new Global Music Diplomacy Tour Initiative, you’ll have the perfect look for any occasion — polka dots and pearls when you want to have some fun, rhinestones for those formal events, and that bee outfit just for the hell of it.

Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. C.Q. Brown. Welcome to another incredibly thankless military job! By my count, your fun meter should already be nearly pegged out — you’ve already suffered through more than three years of E-Ring craziness as the Air Force chief, and now you’re looking at nearly four more as chairman! Glad I’m not you! But one cool thing you get to do is publish a Chairman’s Reading List for the joint force. Santa was surprised to recently find that the list hasn’t actually been updated since 2012, so you’ll definitely look smarter than Dunford and Milley! Santa will be dropping two books down your chimney this year: a copy of Smile for No Good Reason, for you and your fellow joint chiefs to pass around during your next Tank session; and, with Santa wincing about what your world might look like in January 2025, a copy of You Can Be Happy No Matter What.

Chief of Staff of the Army Gen. Randy George. Sure, Army beat Navy this year, but now it’s time to get back to the only real game that counts: recruiting! You know it’s bad when one of the best Duffel Blog stories of the year involved a kid dressed up for Halloween as an Army recruiter and missing his candy target by 20 percent! I’m thinking that this problem must have something to do with persuading young folks about the virtues of crawling under barbed wire in the mud and sleeping on the ground in the rain, no? The elves are busily working the printing presses so that you can give each of your recruiters copies of two books: How to Suffer Outside: A Beginner’s Guide to Hiking and Backpacking, and How to Do Things You Hate: Self-Discipline to Suffer Less, Embrace the Suck, and Achieve Anything.

Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Lisa Franchetti. Okay, I get that you’re new on the job. But one of your top priorities should be firing whomever thought it would be smart to make Navy’s game-day uniforms a tribute to the “Silent Service.” Yes, submariners are cool. But honestly, most Americans now think that the only people actually in the Navy are a handful of fighter pilots from Top Gun: Maverick and about a million really low-ego Navy SEALs. No wonder you’re having recruiting problems too — you gotta tell people about ships! After all, you’re the only service with pretty much guaranteed workspace air conditioning! So Santa will also be giving you gifts for your recruiters: a combat task force model kit, and a spiffy updated version of the classic game Battleship.

Commandant of the Marine Corps Gen. Eric Smith. General, Santa sends only his best wishes to you to complete your speedy recovery and get back to your E-Ring office soon. You have given more than anyone could ask to your Marines, and all of us at the North Pole are hoping that your holiday season will be filled with family, fun, and time for lots of rest. To help you through your physical therapy, we’ll be dropping off a personalized Marine PT uniform and a Marine drill sergeant teddy bear to help you along.

The “Chowder II” Marine Retired Generals. Santa tries not pick on old guys, because after all, I have a white beard too! But this crew deserves an exception. Just when did the 248-year tradition of standing behind the commandant and his decisions get blown up? I should have given this to you guys years ago, but better late than never. You’ll each receive a copy of STFU: The Power of Keeping Your Mouth Shut in an Endlessly Noisy World. You’ll also get a case of Santa’s favorite bourbon barrel–aged triple Belgian stout, also aptly named STFU — an appropriate brew for all of you aging critics of the current and former commandants’ plans to transform the Marines for warfare in this century.

Chief of Staff of the Air Force Gen. David Allvin and Chief of the National Guard Bureau Army Gen. Dan Hokanson. This Santa two-fer is going to help you guys plug all the security holes in the Air National Guard that you both own. Who would have thought that a junior airman 1st class at an obscure National Guard base in Massachusetts could have shared some of the nation’s most sensitive intelligence with an online gamers chat on Discord? Your security training surely needs an upgrade, but we know money is tight, since the cost of those F-35s just keeps going up! I have the perfect solution: train all of your security professionals on how to detect spies who lie using the Clue Liar’s Editionboard game, alongside a special Air Force version of Google’s Liar Sound button! Even that has to be better than what you’ve been using until now.

U.S. Northern Command Commander Gen. Glen VanHerck. Santa thought he was reading the Duffel Blog when he spotted the story of the clandestine daytime bar called the “John Wayne Saloon” inside NORAD headquarters. Seriously?? This is personal for me, since I rely on you to defend my airspace every Christmas Eve! When I fly over your headquarters this year, you’ll be getting a copy of Alcoholism in the Workplace: A Handbook for Supervisors, alongside copies of these recommended books on sobriety to distribute to your subordinates.

U.S. Central Command Commander Gen. Eric Kurilla. Last year, Santa worried that you had so little to do that you were training to be a submarine skipper. But the Middle East is back, baby! Israel battling Hamas, Houthi rebels launching missiles at U.S. ships, Iranian militias rocketing the U.S. embassy, and American troops in Iraq — you have a full plate, and once again a full AOR. To cheer up your demoralized forces who had all started learning Mandarin, Santa is trying to convince a world-famous football girlfriend to go on a USO tour of your battlespace. I can’t say who it is yet, since confidential negotiations are ongoing, but let’s just say you might consider calling it “Eras 2: The Combat Tour”!

U.S. Strategic Command Commander Gen. Anthony Cotton. I know you and your staff didn’t get out much this past summer, what with opening a new center on electromagnetic threats, planning a conference on deterrence, and, you know, saving the planet from nuclear Armageddon. So you will all be spending Christmas Day at a movie theater in downtown Omaha, where Santa has arranged a special Barbenheimer double feature! Oppie’s up first, which you can totally justify as professional development. Then refill your popcorn buckets and get ready to party at the Mojo Dojo Casa House, at least until Barbie singlehandedly dismantles the patriarchy. You’ll feel the Kenergy in no time!

Sen. Tommy “Coach” Tuberville. You get nothing but a lump of coal from me. But those troublemakers named Barno and Bensahel wrote a holiday poem about you (with a little help from Theodor Geisel) that is truly a gift to everyone in uniform who suffered during your inexcusable hold on military promotions. Read it here.

So there you have it! The elves and I hope that we made you smile as we poked a bit of gentle fun at many of the big names in the natsec community. We hope that all of them, and all of you, find a way to celebrate this holiday season in style, be close to those you love, and cherish 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!

Yours from the wintry Arctic North,




Lt. Gen. David W. Barno, U.S. Army (ret.), and Dr. Nora Bensahel are Professors of the Practice at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies, and are also contributing editors at War on the Rocks, where their column appears periodically. Sign up for Barno and Bensahel’s Strategic Outpost newsletter to track their articles as well as their public events.

Image: Gunnery Sgt. Evan Ahlin