"We're here with Gen. Oscar Bonmot, director of the Pentagon's top-secret Office of Strategic Nicknames. Thanks for joining us, General."

"What's the good word, Ted?""We were about to ask you that, General. Now, you and your staff are responsible for those catchy names we hear all the time for our military actions around the world, am I right?"

"That's right, Ted."

"So you invented `Operation Desert Shield' for the Persian Gulf? And before that, `Operation Just Cause' for Panama?"

"That's right, Ted. And we also did our practice landing in Saudi Arabia the other day - you know, to show Saddam Hussein we mean business. We called it `Operation Imminent Thunder.' "

"Very nice."

"We're very proud of it, Ted. Even though it was only a mock-up, we thought it struck just the right note. You see, Ted, weapons and manpower can only take you so far. There's nothing that gets the juices flowing like a really good nickname."

"You obviously have enormous power, General. Are there rules you have to follow in coming up with these names?"

"Not rules exactly, Ted - but when you've been in the nickname business as long as we have, you learn what works. We always start with `Operation' - that lets people know we're serious - and we're pretty partial to the three-worder: `Operation Something-Something.' It just feels right."

"And do you - "

"Three words, with a good strong closer - `Thunder,' `Cause,' `Shield' - that kind of thing. I mean, which would you rather be part of: `Operation Desert Shield'? Or 'Operation Stand Around in the Sand and Stomp Scorpions'?"

"For instance."

"For instance. And you don't want a nickname that can flip on you. Panama's the perfect example - we thought `Operation Just Cause' sounded great."

"Given how tiny the mission was, it was pretty impressive."

"That's the thing: It was such a tiny mission - all those soldiers to take out one guy who got on the president's nerves - that some of the boys in the office started calling it `Operation Just Because.' "

"I never heard that."

"It didn't get around much - lucky for us. It's like the nickname we made up for the Grenada invasion: `Operation Forget Lebanon.' Anyway, with `Just Cause,' by the time we realized the problem, it was too late to change it."

"I see. I'll tell you, General, I'm surprised the president hasn't used you to handle some of his problems on the home front, too."

"Actually, Ted, the White House did sound us out a few weeks ago, and we even came up with some options for them. The two we liked best were `Operation Worthy Bounty' - that was for the president's capital gains cut - and for his position on tax increases, we suggested `Operation Full Flexibility.' "

"And what happened?"

"I guess they decided to handle the domestic stuff themselves. It's OK, though - we've got plenty on our plate with Iraq. That's what separates us from the Iraqis, you know, Ted: We have all the best nicknames on our side."

"You mean Saddam uses nicknames, too?"

"Oh, sure - but they're not nearly as sophisticated."

"So what's he working on now?"

" `Operation Give George Heartburn.' "