Iraq: The Way Forward

Question: What is the way forward in Iraq?

Tommy Thompson: And I would require the ________ government to vote. You know, they’re duly elected. Vote as to whether you “want the United States in our country”. We’ve been there for four years. We’re called invaders, and people that are there just, you know, to corrupt the system, and take over that system, and protect our interest in oil. But the truth of the matter is that is not why we’re there. I mean we’re not getting any of the oil out of Iraq whatsoever. And it’s cost us $8.5 billion dollars. So Iraq, you tell us whether or not you want us there, and tell us how we’re gonna win. And if you don’t want us there, vote that way and we’ll re-deploy our forces out of there over a period of time. And secondly elect state governments over the 18 territories that are there. And if you do that, the Shiites are gonna elect Shiites. Sunnis will elect Sunnis. Kurds will elect Kurds. You get rid of the civil war that’s been going on for 1,400 years and force the Shiites and Sunnis to live together that don’t like each other, you’re not gonna solve the civil war or bring peace! But if you have separate territories in which the Shiites elect a Shiite theocracy, Sunnis elect a Sunni theocracy, Kurds elect a Kurd theocracy, you’re gonna have an attraction for people of that religious . . . religious theocracy to move to those territories and get rid of the civil war.

And third, like we do in Alaska, split the oil revenues one-third to the federal government, one-third to the state governments, and one-third to every man, woman and child! And if you’re receiving a check from the government from those oil wells, you’re gonna make darn sure that they keep producing! Whether you’re Shiite, Sunni, or Kurd, that’s money in your pocket. And too, you’re gonna take that money and you’re gonna build businesses. You’re gonna build something with it, you know, for yourself and your family. Build a better tea house, a better gasoline station. You know, a shop that you’re gonna do it! And I’ve been there. I’ve seen the Iraqi people. They’re great entrepreneurs. They’re gonna use that money to better themselves, but in the same process build their country. And that’s how you win that peace over there and make Iraq a stable, Democratic country. It’s gonna be . . . It’s gonna be Shiite dominated, because the Shiites control most of . . . most of the territories. But Sunnis are gonna have their territories that they’re gonna feel comfortable with. And that’s how you win the peace. And I laid this out as an idea to solve the problems, and all you hear back is, you know, “Do you support the surge, or don’t you support the surge?” Either there or withdraw. Nobody’s laid out a plan like I have to win the peace. And that’s what differs . . . that’s what differentiates me from the other candidates. And I offer that as just one solution to the many that you’re talking about. And these are the big ideas that we have to do.

Question: Should the U.S. get out of Iraq?

I would say number one, I would ask the ________ government to vote right now whether or not they want us there, and how they’re gonna . . . if they want us there, how they’re gonna help. If not, let’s redeploy. You know, over the next six months so you don’t do it dramatically so that everything goes wrong. Do it in a systematic, stable fashion.Two, I would make sure, like I’ve said, have the governments elect state governments and get rid of the civil war. There is a better way. I mean if the Shiites are in Shiite territories, they’re not gonna be so willing to blow up. And Sunnis . . . let’s be smart about it. I mean these territories have been set up since 1921. Let’s have elected officials and allow the Shiites and the Sunnis to have their own territories along with the Kurds. And you’re gonna stabilize that area much better. You’re never gonna be completely stable, but it’s gonna be much better than it is right now. And that’s what this . . . And then I would tell the American people, “This is what we need to do.” And you gotta trust. And this is my plan. We have no plan out there. You know, people are war-weary. People get very war weary in America. They did in Vietnam, and they did in the Second World War. And this has gone on longer now than the Second World War. So you gotta understand the fatigue of the people in this country. And you’ve gotta do something different than what has happened. And that’s what’s really frustrating people. They don’t see any change. They just see American men and women getting blown up, and shot, and wounded and killed. They want a . . . they want an end game. And as Collin Powell said . . . I adhere to what Collin Powell always said talking about going to war. Number one, have a reason to go to war. Number two, go with overwhelming might and superiority and win the war. And then three, have an exit strategy. I don’t think we did two and three.

Recorded on: 7/6/07



Thompson talks about what he would do in Iraq and whether or not the U.S. should get out.

Participatory democracy is presumed to be the gold standard. Here’s why it isn’t.

Political activism may get people invested in politics, and affect urgently needed change, but it comes at the expense of tolerance and healthy democratic norms.

Photo by Nicholas Roberts /Getty Images
Sponsored by Charles Koch Foundation
  • Polarization and extreme partisanships have been on the rise in the United States.
  • Political psychologist Diana Mutz argues that we need more deliberation, not political activism, to keep our democracy robust.
  • Despite increased polarization, Americans still have more in common than we appear to.
Keep reading Show less

How do 80-year-old 'super-agers' have the brains of 20-somethings?

Most elderly individuals' brains degrade over time, but some match — or even outperform — younger individuals on cognitive tests.

Mind & Brain
  • "Super-agers" seem to escape the decline in cognitive function that affects most of the elderly population.
  • New research suggests this is because of higher functional connectivity in key brain networks.
  • It's not clear what the specific reason for this is, but research has uncovered several activities that encourage greater brain health in old age.

At some point in our 20s or 30s, something starts to change in our brains. They begin to shrink a little bit. The myelin that insulates our nerves begins to lose some of its integrity. Fewer and fewer chemical messages get sent as our brains make fewer neurotransmitters.

As we get older, these processes increase. Brain weight decreases by about 5 percent per decade after 40. The frontal lobe and hippocampus — areas related to memory encoding — begin to shrink mainly around 60 or 70. But this is just an unfortunate reality; you can't always be young, and things will begin to break down eventually. That's part of the reason why some individuals think that we should all hope for a life that ends by 75, before the worst effects of time sink in.

But this might be a touch premature. Some lucky individuals seem to resist these destructive forces working on our brains. In cognitive tests, these 80-year-old "super-agers" perform just as well as individuals in their 20s.

Just as sharp as the whippersnappers

To find out what's behind the phenomenon of super-agers, researchers conducted a study examining the brains and cognitive performances of two groups: 41 young adults between the ages of 18 and 35 and 40 older adults between the ages of 60 and 80.

First, the researchers administered a series of cognitive tests, like the California Verbal Learning Test (CVLT) and the Trail Making Test (TMT). Seventeen members of the older group scored at or above the mean scores of the younger group. That is, these 17 could be considered super-agers, performing at the same level as the younger study participants. Aside from these individuals, members of the older group tended to perform less well on the cognitive tests. Then, the researchers scanned all participants' brains in an fMRI, paying special attention to two portions of the brain: the default mode network and the salience network.

The default mode network is, as its name might suggest, a series of brain regions that are active by default — when we're not engaged in a task, they tend to show higher levels of activity. It also appears to be very related to thinking about one's self, thinking about others, as well as aspects of memory and thinking about the future.

The salience network is another network of brain regions, so named because it appears deeply linked to detecting and integrating salient emotional and sensory stimuli. (In neuroscience, saliency refers to how much an item "sticks out"). Both of these networks are also extremely important to overall cognitive function, and in super-agers, the activity in these networks was more coordinated than in their peers.

Default Mode Network

Wikimedia Commons

An image of the brain highlighting the regions associated with the default mode network.

How to ensure brain health in old age

While prior research has identified some genetic influences on how "gracefully" the brain ages, there are likely activities that can encourage brain health. "We hope to identify things we can prescribe for people that would help them be more like a superager," said Bradford Dickerson, one of the researchers in this study, in a statement. "It's not as likely to be a pill as more likely to be recommendations for lifestyle, diet, and exercise. That's one of the long-term goals of this study — to try to help people become superagers if they want to."

To date, there is some preliminary evidence of ways that you can keep your brain younger longer. For instance, more education and a cognitively demanding job predicts having higher cognitive abilities in old age. Generally speaking, the adage of "use it or lose it" appears to hold true; having a cognitively active lifestyle helps to protect your brain in old age. So, it might be tempting to fill your golden years with beer and reruns of CSI, but it's unlikely to help you keep your edge.

Aside from these intuitive ways to keep your brain healthy, regular exercise appears to boost cognitive health in old age, as Dickinson mentioned. Diet is also a protective factor, especially for diets delivering omega-3 fatty acids (which can be found in fish oil), polyphenols (found in dark chocolate!), vitamin D (egg yolks and sunlight), and the B vitamins (meat, eggs, and legumes). There's also evidence that having a healthy social life in old age can protect against cognitive decline.

For many, the physical decline associated with old age is an expected side effect of a life well-lived. But the idea that our intellect will also degrade can be a much scarier reality. Fortunately, the existence of super-agers shows that at the very least, we don't have to accept cognitive decline without a fight.

Learn the art of conversation, with comedian Pete Holmes

We have a new range of skills coming to Big Think Edge this week, including communication, critical thinking, and emotional intelligence.

Edge Weekly
  • At Big Think Edge this week, we delve into ways you can make your conversations sing. So to speak.
  • Learn a valuable lesson about psychopaths, from diagnosed psychopath (and neuroscientsit) James Fallon.
  • If you're not a subscriber yet, join Big Think Edge today. Boost your skills with our 7-day free trial.
Keep reading Show less