Tuesday, November 02, 2004

Elections, Interference, and International Law - or "Hello World. This is Not Your Election."

Last week, the German site Medienkritik, issuing a ringing endorsement, offered sound advice for Americans in this election season: vote. In limiting itself to endorsing democracy, Medienkritik had this to say: "As a German publication, Medienkritik feels that it is not our place and it is not our job to interfere in internal American political affairs or to try to exercise influence on the election by endorsing one side or the other. Frankly, we feel that foreign attempts (such as the Guardian letter-writing debacle) to influence the outcome of the US election are despicable."

The last few weeks have indeed seen an unprecedented attempt by foreign media to interfere in the American elections. Astonishingly, such efforts have even included public media, as this article from Deutsche Welle (another hat tip to Medienkritik) makes clear. Deutsche Welle is a publicly funded German radio and television broadcaster, whose function is to broadcast to foreign audiences and the purpose of whose programming, according to the 1997 "Deutsche Welle Law", is to "provide listeners and viewers abroad with a comprehensive account of the political, cultural and economic situation in Germany" and to "present and explain the German attitude to important issues." In more vulgar terms, Deutsche Welle is the external propaganda arm of German public broadcasting.

It is not only despicable, as Medienkritik aptly puts it, for Deutsche Welle woodenly to rehearse all the distortions of the myth of "squandered sympathy" - "Despite a massive outpouring of sympathy for America immediately following September 11, Bush's you're with us or against approach to international affairs quickly alienated the majority of the world's population" - in order to give support to John Kerry's candidacy. Inasmuch as Deutsche Welle is a German public broadcaster that explicitly targets foreign audiences, including Americans, it is also, in effect, illegal, violating the letter and spirit of international law. For many years now, the General Assembly of the United Nations, invoking the principle of self-determination as contained in the UN Charter and in the so-called "Friendly Relations Declaration" of 1970, has voted an annual resolution on "Respect for the principles of national sovereignty and non-interference in the internal affairs of States in electoral processes". The 1998 version of the resolution, for instance, "reaffirms that any activities that attempt, directly or indirectly, to interfere in the free development of national electoral processes... or that are intended to sway the results of such processes, violate the spirit and letter of the principles established in the Charter and in the Declaration on Principles of International Law concerning Friendly Relations and Cooperation among States...". It is interesting to note that the most recent versions of the resolution have been considerably watered down compared to the earlier ones and that this last paragraph in particular has, in effect, disappeared or been altered beyond recognition - as if certain influential states in the General Assembly wanted precisely to free up their hands to interfere in the electoral processes of other states. If, moreover, a state is prepared overtly to defy the principle of non-interference as concerns the national elections of other states, how much more reason is there to expect that it will also covertly be doing the same? I suspect that the multiplication of 527 organizations in the US will have provided ample margin for such interference to occur.

Not so subtle attempts to influence the American elections began well before the Guardian's ill-fated letter-writing campaign. Already in early September, I received an e-mail bearing the unequivocal message heading "Warning to America": a message heading worthy of a missive from Osama Bin Laden, though the mail was in fact coming from an execrable British website misleadingly called "Open Democracy". The message linked to an article supposed to catalogue all the sins being committed by America under the leadership of George W. Bush: "Three years on from 9/11, what has America learned about the world - and itself? The wrong lessons, argues Anatol Lieven in 'America Right or Wrong'. The Bush administration responded to 9/11 in the name of American Nationalism. Today, its deeply rooted attitudes combine fundamentalist religious sentiment, belief in American 'exceptionalism', chauvinist contempt for other peoples, and embittered suspicion of the modern world as well as a love of its democratic creed [sic!]." Some weeks earlier I had pleaded to be removed from the mailing list of said site after receiving a message announcing an apparently "humorous" report from a fictitious consultancy firm. The report was supposed to advise Osama Bin Laden to permit himself to be captured just before the American elections, since " an 'incompetent' Bush administration actually benefits al-Qaida." My pleas went unheeded. In the meanwhile, the site has been offering "coverage of the US election from a global perspective" under the rubric "The World's US Election" (a rubric, incidentally, which - reflecting the trendy racism of the so-called "Left" - includes reports from "the African-American media (US)" and "the Latino media (US)", as if blacks and latinos in the US were somehow not Americans.)

Well, hello world. These are not your elections. Although not as obvious as Open Democracy's "Warning to America", the exaggerated attentiveness to the American elections displayed in recent weeks by the dominant media in various European countries - with Le Monde, predictably, having been working itself into a particularly fine lather - implies just as much a threat, since it suggests that these countries have or ought to have a sort of right of oversight of the US electoral process - and hence too, presumably, a right to intervene in some manner if they are not satisfied with the outcome. Such an attitude is obviously incompatible with the right to self-determination: in this case, more particularly, the right of America's citizens to such. I hope Americans will go to the polls today serenely, ignoring all such threats and attempts at intimidation - whether they come from Osama Bin Laden or from ostensible "allies" in Europe, who no doubt only threaten us for our own good - and that they will vote according to their conscience and indeed - why not? - their interests. We are not, after all, electing any government but our own.