13/11/2012

The Eyes (and Guns?) of Texas Are Upon You

After the satisfying election of Barack Obama – no euphoria this time – and the rejection of the Republican Party’s unilateral platform, it is interesting to return to an article in the October 31 Tribune de Genève to review the obstacles facing a true U.S. internationalism, if not obstacles to a successful Swiss OSCE Presidency in 2014. Indeed, if there has been much publicity surrounding Swiss-U.S. tensions on fiscal matters, this incident points to the difference between the two countries in their understanding of the rule of law.

To review the facts: Hugues Hiltpold, a fellow Carougeois, Conseiller National with an American mother, was part of an Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) observation team to monitor the recent presidential election under a mandate from the Confederation but at the invitation of the United States.


Nothing unusual here; the OSCE has monitored many elections around the world, including those in the United States since 2002. The Washington Post noted that “The United States, which helped create the OSCE, has supported it for decades to promote freedom and democracy worldwide.” In this specific instance, the observers’ presence in Texas was because of a particular Texas law which could be used to stop minorities from voting, especially in this case for Barack Obama.

What was unusual was that the Republican Attorney General of Texas, Gregg Abbott, implied that the observers would somehow interfere with the election process. He sent a letter to the OSCE warning that its representatives “are not authorized by Texas law to enter a polling place” and that it “may be a criminal offense for OSCE’s representatives to maintain a presence within 100 feet of a polling place’s entrance.”  In addition, a local clerk warned that the observers could be “forcibly” removed for a criminal offense if they came within 30 meters of a voting booth. Texas Gov. Rick Perry tweeted: “No UN monitors/inspectors will be part of any TX election process…”

Our local observer was not sent to Texas - he was sent to Philadelphia - avoiding an eventual showdown at the OK corral. But the incident remains on record. Government officials within the United States threatened international observers of a presidential election. What kind of precedent does this set? How can the United States complain about unfair election procedures or blocking of observers in other countries when state officials responsible for the election in Texas behave in such a manner?

A spokeswoman for the U.S. State Department assured everyone when she said “OSCE observers are committed to following all U.S. laws and regulations as they do in any country where they observe elections and they will do so as well in Texas.” All local laws? Belarussian local laws? The United States strongly believes that American law trumps international law. The death penalty is but one example of this.

The song “The Eyes of Texas are Upon You” is the official song of the University of Texas. It contains the line, “Do not think you can escape them.” That is a very good warning for multilateralists in the Obama administration and the Swiss Foreign Ministry not to overestimate the implications of the recent election in terms of a victory for U.S. internationalism. All politics is local, but the United States has a very special breed in the Lone Star state.  

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