Is Strauss-Kahn staging a political comeback – on his wife's coattails?

Former IMF head Dominique Strauss-Kahn, whose political life seemed over after sexual assault accusations, is back with a speech criticizing the EU. Does this, and his wife's selection as 'Woman of the Year,' signal his comeback?

David Karp/AP
Former IMF leader Dominique Strauss-Kahn leaves New York State Supreme court with his wife Anne Sinclair on July 1, in New York. Sinclair was named 'Woman of the Year' in a public opinion poll for her 'loyalty and courage' in standing by her man, this week.

Seven months ago, accused of sexually assaulting a hotel maid, Dominique Strauss-Kahn was a man for whom time appeared to have run out.

The prominent managing director of the International Monetary Fund, the man who was poised to be the Socialist Party's presidential candidate challenging French President Nicolas Sarkozy, was finished, terminé, in the eyes of many. But yesterday, Mr. Strauss-Kahn made his first foray back into public life, giving a well-publicized speech to a Chinese-based Internet firm, blasting Europe for the eurozone crisis. And on the same day, Strauss-Kahn’s wife, Anne Sinclair, was named “Woman of the Year” in a public opinion poll for her “loyalty and courage” in standing by her man.

In his speech to the Chinese Internet company NetEase in Beijing, Strauss-Kahn let it be known he was not impressed with the restructuring of the European Union’s single-currency zone, hammered together by German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Strauss-Kahn’s apparent rival, French President Sarkozy.

“None of the main problems has been addressed,” he said. “There’s no central budget in Europe, no institutional centres, no lender of last resort, no expansion of the monetary policy.”

The French paper Le Monde carried more from Strauss-Kahn’s speech, which is translated here:

"With the recent storm, the raft seems not to be strong enough,” he said, speaking of the eurozone. “The fact that the euro is still in the middle of the river and that the union budget is not completed makes it very, very vulnerable, and the raft seems about to sink. (...) I am not convinced that [French President] Sarkozy and [German Chancellor] Madame Merkel will understand each other and this is probably one of the reasons why the European system has problems ahead,” he said.

Is it because the French public is, like Strauss-Kahn, pessimistic about the Eurozone bailout plan, or is it because they are simply sick of Sarkozy? Whatever the reasons, the French seem more than willing to overlook or move past Strauss-Kahn’s fall from grace and see him return to the public stage.

Strauss-Kahn was accused of sexually assaulting a hotel maid in New York City last May. Before that, he was the main challenger to Sarkozy in the upcoming 2012 presidential elections. Instead, he was escorted off his plane back to France in handcuff and put through a “perp walk” by New York City police. He resigned his position as head of the IMF and spent the next few months preparing his defense.

The case against Strauss-Kahn was built largely on the testimony of the maid, Nafissatou Diallo, a Guinean immigrant, who claimed that Strauss-Kahn had forced her to perform a sexual act in his hotel room. Charges against Strauss-Kahn were dropped because of contradictions in Ms. Diallo’s testimony of the events. Her case was further undermined when news emerged that Ms. Diallo had lied in her application for asylum.

Strauss-Kahn’s return rubs some people the wrong way. Chimamanda Adichie, the Nigerian novelist, wrote in Newsweek that she initially applauded the arrest of Strauss-Kahn as an example of an equitable justice system, where both rich and poor were both accountable for their actions. But the manner in which Diallo’s character was analyzed, Ms. Adichie said, showed that American justice still favored the powerful.

I am now puzzled by the American system that I earlier applauded. Rape seems to be the only crime in which the standards applied to the victim are much higher than those applied to the alleged perpetrator. If you accused someone of stealing from you, or trying to kill you, you would not be required to demonstrate saintliness in order to win over a jury. All that would really matter would be the facts of the case. The judicial system is designed to give Diallo a chance for redress, and DSK a chance to be judged by a jury of his peers. The prosecutor’s unilateral decision to truncate this process, even though he admitted that he does not know the truth, suggests how deeply steeped in power the Diallo case was.

Which makes the naming of Strauss-Kahn’s wife, the former TV journalist Anne Sinclair as “Woman of the Year” all the more curious, particularly since she came out ahead of another Frenchwoman, Christine Lagarde, who was named the first female head of the IMF earlier this year. The poll’s administrator, Bernard Sananes of the opinion polling firm CSA, said the poll was not meant to reflect popularity, but rather the person “who had attracted the most publicity.”

According to Terrafemina [the website that co-sponsored the poll], Sinclair was a popular choice among women because they were moved by the image of her as wounded icon. “Women identified with her,” explained Veronique Morali, who created the site. “They asked themselves what they would have done in her place.” 

Will all of this lead to a true return for Strauss-Kahn into public life? French voters, men and women, will decide that question. 

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