Today, a few million voters in a handful of swing states will decide who leads America -- still the world's largest economy and most powerful military force by far -- over the next four years. Some 140 million American voters in all will cast their ballots before the day is done. Over 300 million Americans will be affected by the result. And billions more people around the world will wish they had a say.
I have been called a proud American more than once, but for the past year I have been challenged to see my beloved country through a foreign lens while living abroad with my wife. We have had the pleasure of introducing our South African friends to American Thanksgiving, Independence Day, and Halloween. But in return, we have been asked to see more fully the effects -- real and perceived -- of American influence abroad.
One year in, I can say without doubt that America's choice of president (and Congress) matters for every nation and the planet we all call home. So to those fortunate few who will cast deciding votes in this election, I urge you to consider some of the broader implications of your choice.
First, as I am reminded every day in South Africa, too many of our fellow men and women around the world do not have the basic necessities of life -- and it is in our power to help. While American foreign aid figures are impressive in absolute terms and our deficits are cause for concern, such aid amounts to but a fraction of one percent of the federal budget and GDP -- far less than what our counterparts give across the developed world.
That aid has not gone unnoticed. As former Republican Governor Mike Huckabee and former Democratic Senator Blanche Lincoln recently noted, American assistance has helped put 46 million children in school for the very first time, delivered cost-effective vaccines that could save the lives of four million children over the next five years, and extended life-saving treatments to eight million patients suffering from HIV/AIDS.
Still, 2.4 million children will die from malnutrition this year, and millions more will die from other preventable causes related to poverty. America is not the author of many of these ills, but we can help make them right. Instead, the budget proposed by Republican Vice Presidential Candidate Paul Ryan would cut foreign affairs spending by 10 percent next year and further in coming years.
Imagine if we had directed a fraction of the estimated $3 trillion spent on the ill-advised war in Iraq to fighting famine in the Horn of Africa, raising clinics and schools where they are still badly needed, or cultivating free -- and fair-trade hubs across the under-developed world. For a modest $40-$60 billion a year, America and its First World allies could meet the UN's Millennium Development Goals in full and lay a lasting foundation for peace in the form of basic development. That is a small fraction of the hundreds of billions we spend each year maintaining over 700 military bases around the world. The Republican presidential candidate would have us ramp up military spending at home and abroad without an accompanying concern for foreign aid.
Second, there is the planet on which Americans and all peoples depend. While China recently earned the dubious distinction of becoming CO2 emitter number one, America has contributed more than any other nation to raising the concentration of atmospheric carbon to a perilous 391 parts per million-twice its historic average over the past 50,000 years, according to NASA.
The UN's World Food Programme estimates that climate change will claim two-thirds of the arable land in Africa by 2025, with the result that 24 million more children will suffer from malnutrition by 2050. Meanwhile, food prices are expected to rise by 50-90 percent by 2030, three-quarters of world fisheries are overfished or fished to capacity, and species extinction proceeds at roughly 1,000 times the natural rate. Indeed, climate-related extreme weather events, which affected some 300 million people in 2010 and millions more last month in the Eastern USA, are but the most visible sign that things are not right with the planet.
Yet here, the Republican presidential candidate has placed his head in the sand. While 99 percent of climate scientists agree that climate change is real, a threat to human life, and largely the result of human activity, Governor Romney and the majority of Republican party's national elected officials publicly deny the facts. A possible explanation may come from the hundreds of millions of dollars in campaign contributions the party receives from oil, gas, and coal-and from the media's and the public's own willingness to buy a comfortable lie.
Governor Romney would have us believe that President Obama's first foreign trip as commander-in-chief three years ago amounted to an "apology tour." While that is a poor reflection of the facts, I have often wondered why a little humility from the leader of a great but imperfect nation is such a bad thing? My Christian faith instructs me that humility -- the ability to acknowledge our limitations and repent when we have gone wrong -- is not a show of weakness but of strength. (Indeed, it is one of the beautiful paradoxes I encounter in a faith tradition where God is made flesh in the form of a homeless infant, breaks bread with sinners and outcasts, and voluntarily endures suffering and innocent death on behalf of others.)
Has President Obama shown sufficient leadership to meet the daunting challenges which confront our world today? Sadly not. But unlike his Republican opponent, his recipe for global uplift is more than a happy abstraction of "American greatness" alone. While the president seeks to make America "great again," he does not deny the existence of these and other pressing problems, at home and abroad. And in countless understated ways, his administration has already undertaken to respond.
In recognition of these facts, and out of regard for my South African neighbors whose interest in this election does not grant them the right to vote, I am proud to cast my absentee ballot in support of President Obama.