Blogs > Liberty and Power > Milton Friedman: "We Should Not Have Gone into Iraq"

Feb 7, 2006 1:48 am

Milton Friedman: "We Should Not Have Gone into Iraq"

New Perspectives Quarterly has published an interview with Milton Friedman in the winter 2006 issue. Most any interview with Friedman would be interesting, and this is no exception. The first question is about Iraq.

NPQ: You’ve seen a lot in your long life and thought about the big issues. What is on your mind these days?

Milton Friedman: The big issue is whether the United States will succeed in its venture of reshaping the Middle East. It is not clear to me that using military force is the way to do it. We should not have gone into Iraq. But we have. At the moment, the most pressing issue, therefore, is to make sure that effort is completed in a satisfactory way.

There is no doubt that America’s stature in the world—in large part due to the attraction and promotion of our liberal freedoms—has been eroded as a result of Iraq. However, if Iraq emerges in the end as a self-governing country that is not a threat to anybody, that will have a favorable effect on the Middle East in general. The end result then would be to increase the prestige of the US. But that is not the case now. The effect so far has been the other way.

Go here to read the rest of the interview.

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Robert Higgs - 2/7/2006

Unfortunately, Anthony, when the president plunges the country into a war, nearly everybody supports his action at first. The only thing that stops an unwinnable war such the present one--and before it, the ones in Korea and Vietnam--is the growing opposition of those who initially supported the war. Although they regret not so much the war itself as the fact that it is not being won, and hence is giving rise to mounting monetary costs and growing casualty lists, this sort of foul-weather antiwar sentment is essential in halting a stupid war. (By the way, I don't know where Friedman stood prior to the U.S. invasion, so I am not speaking at the moment with him specifically in mind.)

Anthony Gregory - 2/7/2006

I do not mean disrespect to Mr. Friedman, but does anyone know how vocal he was in opposing the war before it happened? I don't understand this position of quietly or silently being against a war before it happens, and then announcing more loudly that you were against it once it has transpired, but saying that, now that the war has begun, it must be supported. Again, I don't know if this is what Friedman has done. But those who do quietly capitulate before the war and then later say they thought it was a bad mistake but victory is the only option don't strike me as opposing the war at all.

David T. Beito - 2/7/2006

This is more than enough for me...especially when I read the unquestioning pro-war comments of others, such as Thomas Sowell, who should know better.

Robert Higgs - 2/7/2006

One has to admire anyone who, at Friedman's age, is still so well informed and so capable of articulating clear arguments about complex matters. Yet, his remarks about the Iraq war disappoint me.

As an economist, Friedman seems to verge on commission of the fallacy of sunk cost when he says, first, that the United States should not have gone into Iraq and, then, that the most pressing issue "is to make sure that effort is completed in a satisfactory way." Every half-decent economist teaches his introductory students that a job not worth doing is not worth doing well. Such a job should simply be terminated before more valuable resources are dumped into a rat hole.

As a libertarian, Friedman goes astray by placing emphasis on "America's stature in the world" and "the prestige of the US." Individuals committed above all to individual liberty don't give a damn about a nation-state's supposed stature or prestige in the world--that's the stuff of nationalist bombast and government commission reports.

Perhaps we ought to be grateful for a half-loaf from the great man; after all, he did say that the U.S. invasion was ill-advised. Still, is it asking too much to expect the world's best-known libertarian to say something about the thousands of innocent Iraqis being murdered by U.S. forces as part of a numbskull neocon scheme to dominate the Middle East?