Smooth Operations

by Kieran Healy on July 4, 2007

Via “Matt Yglesias”: comes the latest family full-court press from “the Kagans”:, who get to author policy and neutrally report on it at the same time:

bq. The new strategy for Iraq has entered its second phase. Now that all of the additional combat forces have arrived in theater, Generals David Petraeus and Ray Odierno have begun Operation Phantom Thunder, a vast and complex effort to disrupt al Qaeda and Shiite militia bases all around Baghdad in advance of the major clear-and-hold operations that will follow. The deployment of forces and preparations for this operation have gone better than expected, and Phantom Thunder is so far proceeding very well.

I saw Kagan on TV for the first time recently in that “Frontline Documentary”: on Iraq. My immediate impression was that he looked like just the sort of tabletop war nerd who had whiled away many happy hours as a child thinking up names like “Operation Phantom Thunder,” and who had managed to parlay this into a career. This was confirmed by what he said when asked about his participation in a Camp David meeting with Bush and his advisers:

Was it the first time you’d been to Camp David?
Oh, yeah, sure. … It was a very cool experience. They flew [us] up on a Chinook from Fort McNair, which is also a cool experience, to fly along the Potomac like that. It’s a beautiful place, and it was quite a good setting, I think.

What fun. Still, “Phantom Thunder”? Looks like we’re running out of tough-sounding modifiers for the word “Thunder.” We’ve had “Blue Thunder”: and before that there was “Operation Rolling Thunder”:, which sounds better than “Operation Bombing Vietnam To No Real Purpose.” “Phantom Thunder” clearly isn’t one of the classics. Let’s see … “Operation Flash of Thunder”? “Operation Thundercats”? “Operation Grabpot Thundergust”?

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07.09.07 at 9:18 pm



chris y 07.04.07 at 2:23 pm

Operation Apthorpe’s Thunderbox.


Michael Bérubé 07.04.07 at 2:23 pm

Well, there’s always “Operation Thunderball.” That would be double-extra cool. But this time I think the secret nerd key is the word “Phantom.” Stay tuned for Surge II in January 2008, code-named “Operation Attack of the Clones.”


Rich Puchalsky 07.04.07 at 2:24 pm

Operation My Thundering Pony.


jim in austin 07.04.07 at 2:53 pm

Operation Thunder Blunder?


Ben Alpers 07.04.07 at 2:59 pm

Operation Thunder Louder
Operation Thunder There Instead of Here


John 07.04.07 at 3:01 pm

Names of military operations often include historical allusions or allusions to the units involved.

Phantom Thunder is largely conducted with troops from the III Corps, one of whose nicknames is the “Phantom Corps” (referring to its use in WWII as a counterattack unit whose movements were given special security). Gen. Odierno is the commander of the III Corps.


JP Stormcrow 07.04.07 at 3:07 pm

A handy guide to some of our great campaign names of the past are available at this government site listing Wars, Campaigns and Expeditions of the Armed Forces Since WW II Which Qualify for Veterans Preference (aside from the names, it is a sobering read).

My favorites:
Vietnam Evacuation (Operation Frequent Wind) April 29, 1975, to April 30, 1975 – [who could top that name]
Grenada (Operation Urgent Fury) October 23, 1983, to November 21, 1983 – [urgent need to redirect fury about the Beirut bombing.]
Global War on Terrorism September 11, 2001 to present [Operation Enduring Freedom – note that Iraq Freedom is also dated from September 11]
I am intrigued by:
Navy Occupation of Trieste May 8, 1945 to October 25, 1954 –
but even more by:
Navy Occupation of Austria May 8, 1945 to October 25, 1954 [the Danube barge fleet?]
Panama(Operation Just Cause) December 20, 1989, to January 31, 1990 [Just ’cause a former drug dealing partnership “went South”.]

I half expected to find:
Chile (Project FUBELT) 1970 to 1973.

Per MB’s suggestion, I predict the Iran bombing attack will be called: Phantom Angler.


abb1 07.04.07 at 3:25 pm

Operation Fantômas Se Déchaîne, planned and executed by Louis de Funès.


christian h. 07.04.07 at 3:43 pm

“Phantom Thunder is so far proceeding very well”, tanslate: lots of people, most of them civilians, have been killed, and parts of Baquba been made unihabitable; propaganda efforts aimed at blaming Iran are proceeding apace.


Jim Shirk 07.04.07 at 3:59 pm

I like Operation Thundermug (a slang term for chamberpot).


Gene O'Grady 07.04.07 at 4:53 pm

Navy occupation of Trieste (7 above) was cold war related; there was a dispute (kind of like Kashmir) between Italy and Yugoslavia, and I believe they ended up with some sort of open city arrangement.

I remember seeing a cool picture of the cruiser Dayton anchored at Trieste as part of the operation.


bob 07.04.07 at 4:59 pm

Freddy the K never previously realized how way cool riding in a Chinook would be — else he surely would have volunteered for combat!


JP Stormcrow 07.04.07 at 5:03 pm

Navy occupation of Trieste (7 above) was cold war related;

Yeah, thanks, found this Postage Stamp Map of Trieste (and some further discussion) at the great map blog, strange maps.


Scott McLemee 07.04.07 at 5:17 pm

Operation Thud and Blunder

Operation Johnny Thunders

Operation Thunder Sausage


astrongmaybe 07.04.07 at 5:50 pm

Operation Thundercrack!


Martin Bento 07.04.07 at 5:58 pm

“Phantom Thunder”? As in thunder that’s not really there? As in the riotous roaring of phantasms in the mind of the deluded? Maybe this is a new bit of candor in naming conventions. Perhaps we will soon see operations like “False Hope”, “Vain Pretension”, “Illusory Victory”, “Delusion of Grandeur”, “Ghostly Mirage”, “Trippy Colors Man”, or simply “Hallucination”.

In a sense we were already there, as scarecrow suggested, with “Just Cause”. Perhaps also “Enduring Freedom” in the sense that the Administration is quite tired of enduring the freedom of others.


John Protevi 07.04.07 at 6:16 pm

Does Operation Phantom Thunder have a logo yet? This one might be cool enough even for Freddie Kagan!


yabonn 07.04.07 at 6:20 pm


But wait! Meet the new, improved, sneakier thunda, with extra phantomness added!


TSOL 07.04.07 at 6:26 pm

Oh, the hilarity of academics decrying anyone else’s tendency to come up with ridiculous-sounding names and labels for things.

Whatever you people do, don’t look in the mirror!


P O'Neill 07.04.07 at 6:40 pm

Speaking of historical allusions, Bush today trotted out again what is probably the most hare-brained of them all —

We [War of Independence] were a small band of freedom-loving patriots taking on the most powerful empire in the world.

So who’s the small band taking on the most powerful empire in the world in Iraq?


Kieran Healy 07.04.07 at 8:40 pm

Oh, the hilarity of academics decrying anyone else’s tendency to come up with ridiculous-sounding names and labels for things.

Tell me, what else do you apply this doctrine of collective responsibility to?


John Protevi 07.04.07 at 8:52 pm

TSOL, I remember 1989 too, but I can’t believe people are still going on about “postmodernism.” Of all the deceased equines in the world, you have attempted to resurrect the most thoroughly beaten beast of all.


JP Stormcrow 07.04.07 at 9:32 pm

the most thoroughly beaten beast of all.

When all else fails we can whip postmodernism’s eyes, and make the professors laugh, not cry.


Glorious Godfrey 07.04.07 at 10:38 pm

The only operation that matters is Operation Turd Blossom.


John Protevi 07.04.07 at 10:45 pm

It’s an awfully silly song that takes itself incredibly seriously

Thus Spake Althouse.


Bruce Baugh 07.05.07 at 12:06 am

I’m holding out for Operation Thundarr. Ookla! Ariel! We ride!


Martin Bento 07.05.07 at 12:33 am

The hilarious word is “Phantom”, not “Thunder”

Add to #16

Operation Ghost of a Chance

Operation Desparate Mirage

Operation Eminence Front (the who?)


SG 07.05.07 at 12:56 am

Number 3 I think you got the order wrong. Shouldn`t it be operation “Thundering MY pony”?


Michael Bérubé 07.05.07 at 2:28 am

Whatever you people do, don’t look in the mirror!

I couldn’t resist. I . . . I looked . . . and I saw an ideal-ego! It was complete and whole, I swear. Or maybe it was just imaginary?


Doctor Slack 07.05.07 at 3:53 am

Operation Spectral Purpose.


vavilen 07.05.07 at 4:12 am

Well, the whole Iraqi invasion could be codenamed “operation tantrum blunder”.


mds 07.05.07 at 2:13 pm

I’m holding out for Operation Thundarr. Ookla! Ariel! We ride!

Oooh, Operation Phantom Thundarr the Barbarian!

“From out of space comes an Islamofascist planet, hurtling between the Earth and the Moon, unleashing cosmic destruction! Man’s civilization is cast in ruin!”

“Two thousand years later, Earth is reborn… A strange new world rises from the old: a world of savagery, climate science, and sodomy! But one man bursts his bonds to fight for America!”

Oh, and the US still has troops in Iraq at that point.

Hey, perhaps we could distinguish those who believe that the US will triumph in Iraq through force of will (“the Green Lanterns”) from those who believe we should use our military technological superiority to lay waste to the entire region (“the Fabulous Sunswords”).


woodlawn 07.05.07 at 4:38 pm

Operation Doubleplus Thunder is available.


cartesian 07.05.07 at 4:45 pm

We want to contain the terrorist threat, right? Reduce the number of explosions to a reasonable level and make the populace comfortable? So many reasons for choosing:
Operation Imodium(TM)
[#7 – will that do?]

Unless it just *has* to be a double entendre, in which case:
Operation Overwhelming Terror
Operation Discriminatory Force
Operation Overpowering Reason
Can I have a paycheck now please?


Ralph Hitchens 07.06.07 at 4:51 pm

Waiting for “Operation Thunderbox” (from a Waugh novel)


Ed Drone 07.06.07 at 7:22 pm

It seems to me that since they’ve stolen so many rock song titles and tour titles already, they should branch out to

Operation 8 Miles High, or

Operation Stairway to Heaven, or

Operation Inagaddadavida (or however the hell that was spelled).

Operation Rolling Blackout, of course, is copyright © Enron, so isn’t available.



Brownie 07.09.07 at 10:53 am

How about:

“Operation Is This What a Private Education Buys You These Days?”


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