What we should have called the War on ISIS

Back in early October, Stephen Colbert (z”l) reported on the fact that two months into its war against ISIS, the U.S. military had yet to give the operation an official name. Or as he put it, “Nowhere has Obama been weaker than in the realm of strategic nomenclature.”

Previous engagements in Iraq bore names like “Desert Storm” and “Iraqi Freedom”. But at the time of Colbert’s report, “Inherent Resolve” was still only under consideration — and for good reason: one unnamed yet totally correct military officer described that name to the Wall Street Journal as “just kind of bleh.” “Inherent Resolve” was, natch, officially applied (retroactively even) one week later.

But this is America. We can do better. Colbert had that same thought, and turned to the Name Chamber 5000 (pictured above) to help “settle the debate over the name of the war we have never debated.” The machine dutifully churned out “Operation Swollen Panther”, “Operation Turgid Hammer”, “Operation Reckless Chainsaw”, and “Operation Luxurious Pulltab.” Colbert himself offered “Operation Sack Attack.”

Though I completely agree with the basic premise of his schtick — that “Inherent Resolve” may as well have been chosen at random — I think Colbert’s randomly-generated appellations represent a tremendous missed opportunity to suggest a more evocative name, one that conveys some deeper meaning about story of the war, what it’s about, how it began, why we’re there. There are actually a lot of directions to take that opportunity.

Those things are important. And six months into the campaign, I’d like to believe it isn’t too late to set things straight. So allow me to briefly entertain an alternate reality in which “Inherent Resolve” is not a thing. What would I rather name this war? I can think of several basic considerations (in no particular order):

One. A connection to geography is important. For example, Desert Storm and Desert Shield were both carried out in, well, the desert. The link need not be so literal, but it’s nice to have.

Two. A reference to violence or destruction. Desert Storm had it. So did Rolling Thunder. Urgent Fury. And so on. War is war. Shit gets blown up. Bonus points if the name of your operation reflects that.

Three. A certain resonance with your adversaries, to put the struggle in terms you know they will understand, and help explain why American troops (and friends) have undertaken a military option halfway around the world.

Four. An apportionment of ownership. This final consideration is a little tricky. As another unnamed defense official told the Wall Street Journal (in a quote excerpted by FOX and replayed by Colbert), “If you name it, you own it . . .  And they don’t want to own it.” I agree that assumption of ownership is a very real risk, especially to an administration that prizes diplomacy, and is generally reluctant to resort to war. That said, if you’re careful, it should be possible to name a war while making crystal clear how you found yourself in that situation to begin with. It all depends on the name you choose.

Having considered those four factors, I can’t help but feel disappointed with “Inherent Resolve”. What better name to define the conflict with ISIS could Obama have possibly chosen than “Operation Burning Bush“?


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