Sunday, April 22, 2012

Milton Friedman Supported the War in Iraq

As I mentioned earlier, Johan Norberg in criticizing Naomi Klein states that Milton Friedman opposed the war in Iraq. The same claim is made in this further criticism of Klein that HP provided. HP has likewise asserted that Friedman was "against it from the beginning."

You just assume when people make claims like this there's a rational basis for it. They must have found a statement from Friedman prior to the war that shows he opposed the war. If they didn't find such a statement they wouldn't make the claim. Right? Why would you make an assertion like this without evidence?

Klein in my view is under no obligation to prove Friedman supported the war. It's not really relevant to the argument, and I don't think she claims he supported the war in her book. But regardless of that she's gone forward and done what her critics won't do. She's checked the facts. Here she provides the text of an interview with Friedman from 2003.  It's an English translation of an article published in a German magazine. An excerpt:

FOCUS: You describe the concentration of power as the greatest threat to freedom – and thus to the economy as well. Many people judge the current war against Iraq very critically for this reason – you as well?

Friedman: A clear no. US President Bush only wanted war because anything else would have threatened the freedom and the prosperity of the USA. Counter-question: Do you recommend that Gerhard Schröder ask the whole world for advice before he engages in foreign policy?

FOCUS: The USA did at least ignore the opinion of the majority of UN members…

Friedman:…Bush is president of the United States and not the world. He didn’t even have to consult the UN at all. The United Nations is an absurd organization anyways. All votes count the same, regardless of whether the country has three or 300 million residents. Furthermore, many nations aren’t democratically legitimized at all.

FOCUS: Many Europeans see that differently. Does this political disagreement threaten a trade war between Europe and America?

Friedman: No, the end justifies the means. As soon as we’re rid of Saddam, the political differences will also disappear again very quickly.

FOCUS: What remains are the immense costs of war. Where is the money supposed to come from?

Friedman: It is a small war – also in comparison to the Gulf War of 1991. Back then we had a troop strength of around 400,000 men, today it’s not even 250,000. America is a big country – in comparison to the state expenditures of three to four trillion dollars a year, the costs for this war are only marginal …
The perception Friedman held that the war would be easy may have faded by Novemeber, 2004. Friedman was interviewed at this time. Here's an excerpt:
DA: In a time of war, how do we maintain our freedom?

MF: We don’t. We invariably reduce our freedom. But that doesn’t mean it’s a permanent reduction. As long as we really keep in mind what we’re doing, that we keep it temporary, we need not destroy our freedom.

DA: Are you concerned that some of the measures we’re taking now to fight the war, like the Patriot Act, may be more than just temporary?

MF: It’s not clear. The Patriot Act is a very complicated issue, and I’m not going to get involved in that. But I think that on the whole, this war is small enough relative to our economy that it is not going to be a serious impediment to our freedom. But the sooner we can get rid of it and out of it, the better.

DA: Do you agree with President Bush that the actions in Iraq were necessary as a part of our war on terrorism?

MF: I think you can argue either side of that. Where I do feel strongly, is that having gone into it, whether we should have or not, we must see it through.

DA: Even if it costs some of our freedoms?

MF: There’s no way to avoid a burden on your freedom. The costs themselves are a burden on your freedom. The restrictions that are necessary in order to get rid of the terrorists are a burden to your freedom. So there’s no way in the short run to avoid a restriction on your freedom. But if we’re going to avoid a permanent reduction in freedom, we have to see this war through.
At this point he thinks you could go either way on the argument of whether the war was necessary. But a short run restriction on your freedom by continuing a war is necessary to prevent a permanent reduction in our freedom that is a consequence of terrorist action. The war is still small enough that the Patriot Act is not a big deal.

But by 2006 things have gone from bad to worse. Friedman tells the Wall St Journal he was against the war in Iraq from the beginning (and starts a squabble with his wife Rose in the process). Four months prior to his death he remembers his own opinions differently.

The Hoover Institute, where Friedman was a fellow at the time of the invasion, was instrumental in the invasion. Prior to the war the highly influential Defense Policy Board met regularly with the President and Secretary of Defense. According to the Chicago Tribune this board was "playing an influential role in pushing the Bush administration toward an invasion of Iraq, generating support for military action as members seek to transform a controversial idea into a central pillar of U.S. foreign policy." It had 31 members, 8 of whom were Hoover Institute fellows. This caused some controversy at Standfard, where the Hoover Institute operates, prompting the University to respond. Thomas Sowell is another Hoover Institute fellow and close associate of Friedman. He supported the war and also provided plenty of Muslim bashing to fuel the fire.

Look to other conservative think tanks which were closely associated with Friedman, such as the American Enterprise Institute and Heritage Foundation. You can browse AEI archives on the topic of Iraq. Such an amazing compilation of errors and distortions it's hard to believe they haven't done everything they can to hide this. The very first article after 9-11 was a ridiculous piece of fiction that I've discussed before. It's the same story at Heritage. Here's one that talks about how silly the left is for thinking things would go bad in Iraq. Once again it's an endless stream of war propaganda. If Friedman opposed the war from the beginning, why didn't anybody notice and address his objections?

Given his associations his claim that he opposed the war from the beginning is surprising. Why didn't people check the claim rather than mindlessly repeating it as if it were true?

11 comments:

Sheldon said...

Just quickly noting, that if Friedman were intellectually consistent, he would refer to the U.S. Senate as absurd because each state gets 2 senators whether they have the population of Wyoming or California.

Paul said...

FOCUS: What remains are the immense costs of war. Where is the money supposed to come from?

Friedman: It is a small war – also in comparison to the Gulf War of 1991. Back then we had a troop strength of around 400,000 men, today it’s not even 250,000. America is a big country – in comparison to the state expenditures of three to four trillion dollars a year, the costs for this war are only marginal …

FOCUS: … as long as it doesn’t escalate.

Friedman: I don’t want to speculate about that.


Maybe he should have - wanted to speculate that is.

Also comparing the latter Iraq war to the former Iraq war seems entirely irrelevant.

And he did not answer the actual question. He side-stepped it. The question was - how will the war be funded - his answer was (effectively) let us not worry about that.

HispanicPundit said...

If you read carefully the full interview, that is basically Friedman's fault here: he side stepped ALOT.

This is typical Friedman. He only answers that which he is qualified to answer AND that which can actually be answered in a short interview setting. Complicated questions are replied with, basically, a "too complicated" statement. His responses also directly address the questions.

With that said, I don't see anything here that contradicts his statement that he was always against the war. Sure, you can decipher that he wasn't STRONGLY against the war, but not that he wasn't against it.

Your comparisons to conservative organizations doesn't stick, because Friedman was a libertarian...not a conservative. He would likely also disagree with his peers on drug legalization, gay marriage, prostitution, immigration (somewhat), and other issues.

A better comparison would have been to compare Friedman to the CATO institute, which was against the Iraq war from the beginning.

David Friedman said...

Why do you believe that the interview is genuine--that it represents an accurate English translation of an accurate German translation of what he actually said? Some of the views expressed--the idea that war stimulates the economy and "the end justifies the means"--are inconsistent with Milton Friedman's views, as expressed in lots of other places.

If an inaccurate account of an interview was published in a German publication, the odds of his ever discovering it are not very high. On the other hand, he was enough of a public figure so that if he had supported the war, he would surely have said so, in English, in print, at some point.

And the fact that, back in 1998, he was quoted as saying that our Iraq policy was stupid from the beginning and we ought to declare defeat is also inconsistent with the text of the interview and Klein's claim.

APK said...

Jon,

By your line of reasoning every fellow at the Hoover Institute must have agreed on the Iraq war and for that matter every other policy issue. A lot of your post was nothing but guilt by association. You characterization of Sowell's column as "muslim bashing" is also inaccurate. He mentioned how Islam at one time was a great civilization.

" The question is not whether Islam is a religion of war or peace or -- more likely -- has doctrines that can be quoted either way, as Christian doctrines have been adapted to both. Islam is more than a religion, it is a civilization -- a civilization once brightly shining with achievements but now in eclipse. "

Doesn't sound like Muslim bashing to me.

Jon said...

HP, if you don't think this German interview is support for war, then let me ask this question. What is the basis for your claim that he was against it from the beginning?

David, Focus Magazine is a respectable German magazine, so I'd say my belief that the interview is genuine rests on their credibility. Klein links both to the English translation and the original German. I can't rule out that it's all untrue.

If you think Focus Magazine has misepresented Friedman then my next question is this. Beyond the 2006 interview what is the evidence that he opposed the war in Iraq from the beginning?

APK, I'm not saying Friedman must have supported the war because many at Hoover did. I'm saying that given his associations and the fact that those around him supported the war, if he opposed the war that would be surprising. I think when people make surprising claims they should have some evidence that supports their claim. But the people I cite are making the surprising claim that Friedman opposed the war. They haven't produced evidence. If this interview is genuine it looks like they won't be able to provide evidence because Friedman supported the war.

The part you quote from Sowell may not be Muslim bashing, but other parts are, like when he talks about how Muslim societies haven't produced scientific breakthroughs in a long time, whereas Christians and Jews achieve great things. They are unpeaceful with Israel because they can't even get along with themselves. In any case the issue is more that he's pushing war propaganda, not that he's bashing Islam.

HispanicPundit said...

It comes very close to it...for sure. But he seems to be addressing a specific question, not whether he personally supports war(wars relationship to concentration of power, whether it would harm our finances, etc).

With that said, I agree with David above. Overall contradicts what is typical Friedman (especially the Keynesian assumptions, which we know wasn't Friedman) philosophy.

Jon said...

HP, if you don't think this German interview is support for war, then let me ask this question. What is the basis for your claim that he was against it from the beginning?

HispanicPundit said...

His claim that he was against it from the beginning...lol.

Ron Curtiss said...

Naomi Klein falls into that unfortunate category of persons who believes so strongly in their ideals that think its okay to tell lies to drum up support for them. The problem with this behavior is that you automatically filter out any evidence that you are mistaken in your beliefs, and this makes anything you write or say useless to anyone who doesn't already believe it. I'd bet you $10 that most of what Klein writes is purchased by people who already agree with her, just as I'm certain very few "undecided voters" purchase books by Sean Hannity and Rush limbaugh.

Jon said...

that think its okay to tell lies to drum up support for them

Instead of offering this baseless assertion why not provide some evidence to justify this claim? There's nothing to be learned from this statement since it is offered without evidence.

I'd bet you $10 that most of what Klein writes is purchased by people who already agree with her

So? Confirmation bias is a reality. Everyone knows that. You say there is a "problem with this behavior." What behavior? Writing a book? Reading a book from a person you expect to agree with? Should we all stop reading people who we expect to agree with? Has Klein done something wrong in writing a book or did I do something wrong in reading it?