Relative Costs

Last night, over drinks, I wound up in one of those "if liberals like humanitarianism, why don't you want o indefinitely prolong the hopeless and catastrophic war in Iraq?" arguments and I have, naturally enough, a bunch of Iraq-related answers.

When Gene Sperling got to talking this morning about his work with the Global Campaign for Education, aimed at ensuring every child on the planet a chance to go to primary school, though, I got downright anrgy about this sort of humanitarian rationale for Iraq. The crux of the matter is that Sperling's big, longshot legislative dream is this bill sponsored by Senators Hillary Clinton and Gordon Smith "to require the United States to do its fair share -- up to $3 billion dollars by 2012 -- in meeting the Millennium Development Goal promise of universal education by 2015." He was very excited that Senators Obama and Edwards have also committed to spending $2-$3 billion on this.

Meanwhile, for 2008 the White House says we need to spend $5.3 billion on Mine Resistant Ambush Protected vehicles for use in Iraq and Afghanistan, making me fairly certain the Iraq share alone is worth more than $3 billion. The National Priorities Project sees about $450 billion as having already been spent on Iraq. If you'd taken that as a lump sum and put it in a safe investment vehicle that secured you a very modest 2 percent real rate of return per year, you'd have about triple what Sperling was looking for.

Now, obviously, you wouldn't actually want to finance global education spending that way, but it's telling as a thought experiment about the bankruptcy of a lot of the "humanitarian" rationales that have been offered for the war.

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Matthew Yglesias is a former writer and editor at The Atlantic.

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