The media remains fascinated by that shrinking pool of voters still deciding between McCain and Obama. But there are no TV cameras in the living rooms of another brand of undecided voter. Do you vote for truly fundamental change with a third party candidate (or stay home)? Or do you vote for a more immediate departure from the politics of the Bush administration with Barack Obama?
On the issues of war and peace the stakes are high. Of course, Obama is no peacenik. No one is more familiar than I am with Obama's less pro-peace stands, from residual troops in Iraq to a failure to challenge the "war on terror" frame. However, the fact remains that either McCain or Obama will be the next president, and the power of the presidency means that even small policy differences impact the lives of millions.
This is the moral dimension. An Obama election offers more, dare we say it, "hope" – for any unjustly detained, for long-suffering Iraqis, for peace with Iran – than the McCain alternative. Whether the issue is nuclear policy, torture, diplomacy or treaties, incremental differences are meaningful, and have life and death consequences. No, Obama won't fundamentally change the nature of militarism in America, and we'll often be frustrated with his shortcomings. But the stakes are too high, for too many, to downplay "small" differences.
We, as American voters, will help choose the individual who will hold the most powerful office in the world. This is something that Iraqis and Iranians don't get to participate in – though the decision arguably impacts them more forcefully. With that privilege comes the responsibility to realistically assess the potential outcomes of this election, recognizing the real world effects on people without access to the process.
The election of Barack Obama would be just one important first step towards changing US foreign policy – not an end. If McCain wins this election, that will be seen as a public referendum on and endorsement of McCain's vision of a permanent presence in Iraq and saber-rattling with Iran. Voices like ours for a new approach to foreign policy would be marginalized.
So here's why one peace group thinks that a vote for Obama is a vote for a more peaceful world:
While the president and most of Congress marched towards war on false pretenses, Obama spoke out. For that reason alone, Obama represents a break with the nightmare of the last 8 years. Obama's pledge to begin withdrawing troops after the elections, though not the best approach, is our best hope for bringing an end to that war.
Diplomacy with Iran is the only way to prevent the showdown between US and Iranian hardliners from leading to military confrontation. Obama stuck his neck in voicing willingness to negotiate with Iran (and other "enemies") without preconditions and didn't as opponents from both parties slammed him for it.
3. From Swaggering Cowboy to Global Citizen
If you've traveled abroad over the last eight years, you probably know that people in other parts of the world watch American politics closely, and have been confounded by our recent choice of leaders. You may have even found yourself in the odd position of having to explain that not all Americans are just spoiling for a fight. The election of a young biracial leader with the name Barack Hussein Obama, who talks less like a cowboy and more like a thoughtful and dynamic professor, would be a powerfully symbolic break with the last eight years and could send an exhilarating message to the rest of the world.
4. Following the Rule of Law
Obama would likely get an early start on boosting American credibility by demonstrating respect for human rights and international law. On the campaign trail, he has pledged to carry out critical initiatives such as closing Guantanamo, ending policies that allow torture, and multilateral action on global warming and arms control.
5. The Promise of a Nuclear Weapons Free World
Obama has outlined steps he would take towards the total elimination of nuclear weapons, and they don't include preemptive war. He says he will work to ratify the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty and push for steep cuts in Russian and US nuclear weapons arsenals.
6. A New Cold War?
From his "We Are All Georgians Now" rhetoric to his fantastical plan to kick Russia out of the G8, McCain has never missed a chance to poke the Bear in the eye. Obama's sober call for restraint by both Russia and Georgia in the initial hours of the crisis (before Russia went into Georgian territory) displayed the evenhandedness you want in these situations. Predictably, McCain blasted Obama as indecisive for this calm approach. Can we really risk four years of McCain's Cold War bluster?
7. McCain's Hyper-Macho Foreign Policy
Russia and Iran are the tip of the saber-rattling iceberg. Some McCain advisors (Woolsey and Schlesinger) even encourage a new nuclear arms race with China. McCain was probably just confused when he said he wouldn't meet with Spanish president Zapatero. But the fact that a Spanish surnamed leader creates a Pavlovian "won't even talk to him" response in McCain speaks volumes.
8. A Milestone for Racial Justice
Justice and peace are intertwined. This tawdry season has featured race-baiting, neo-McCarthyism, race-based voter suppression, xenophobia and anti-Muslim sentiment. At the same time, the election of an African-American would be a historic, and for many joyous milestone. This is not itself sufficient reason to vote for Obama. But given the other differences between Obama and McCain, it adds an urgency to not to stand on the sidelines.
Every vote counts. Don't buy the polls that say an Obama win is in the bag — he will need every vote to counter the effects of voter suppression. Those who want a saner, more cooperative, less militaristic foreign policy should first vote for Obama, then stay active to push him to make a break with the foreign policies of the past as large, genuine and lasting as possible.