Tunku Varadajan's WSJ interview of Milton and Rose Friedman appeared while I was in France, and I did not get a chance to read it until last night. I apologize for being late with my reactions, but they are still timely.
One thing that struck me was Milton's views on the Iraq invasion:
Mr. Friedman here shifted focus. "What's really killed the Republican Party isn't spending, it's Iraq. As it happens, I was opposed to going into Iraq from the beginning. I think it was a mistake, for the simple reason that I do not believe the United States of America ought to be involved in aggression."
I was pleased to see that Milton shares my view of the invasion. I have been frustrated for the past several years that many libertarians endorse the invasion and offer an unpersuasive defense, along the lines of "Libertarianism endorses government and the use of force in self-defense, and the Iraq invasion passes this test."
This justification for the invasion is not persuasive. Libertarianism holds that government intervention and the use of force can be good policy if motivated by self-defense, but that in no way endorses any given intervention. There must still be good reason to think the benefits of intervention exceed the costs.
In the Iraq situation, the case for benefits-greater-than costs was weak. Saddam had no incentive to use WMDs against the U.S. or its allies, since that would have caused an invasion and his removal. And the expected costs of invasion were unquestionably substantial, including not only the resources used to conduct the invasion and occuption but any unintended consequences such as civil war. So, the expected costs of invasion exceeded the benefits even in the worst case scenario where Saddam had WMDs. And given the uncertainty that existed pre-invasion about the WMDs, the case for invasion on self-defense grounds was weaker still.
Non-libertarians make arguments for the invasion other than self-defense, such as nation-building and humanitarianism. Libertarians are highly skeptical of such arguments, however, again because the benefits of intervention rarely seem to exceed the costs. The common endorsement of the Iraq invasion by libertarians is thus puzzling and disheartening. Milton's comments in the interview are a welcome exception.
More on the interview tomorrow.