By Krishna Bhardwaj
Until May 14th 2011, he passed as one of the most respected men on this planet. Heads of states and governments would feel pleased with themselves if they had been accorded a brief private audience with Dominique Strauss-Kahn (DSK) to plead their cases in his executive office as Managing Director of the International Monetary Fund (IMF). But things were to take a turn for the worst for this man in the afternoon of May 14th when the New York Police picked him up from an Air France plane he had boarded and which was readying itself for take-off, on charges of sexual assault against a chambermaid of Sofitel Hotel in Manhattan, where he had been staying. It was a matter of a couple of days and hours between his $3000 (Rs 90,000) a night luxury suite in the hotel in NY to the police cell where he was kept in custody following his arrest and the prison cell he is staying in now at Rikers Island off Manhattan coast in the company of dangerous criminals. He has been denied bail as the American judge is convinced about a risk of flight on his part. Unable to lead anymore the international institution he has been heading since 2007 and coming under growing pressure from the IMF board, he resigned his post of MD of the IMF on 19th May.
This charge of his assault against the chambermaid, which remains to be proven given that DSK is denying his involvement, has been enough for the man who led the crusade along with American and European leaders against the international economic and financial crisis which broke out in 2007, to be handcuffed and brought as an ordinary criminal before the court in NY. In fact, he was scheduled to meet Angela Merkel, the German Chancellor, to sort out the debt crisis affecting a chain of European countries, but mainly Greece, casting serious doubt on the very integrity of the euro zone. All the aura and glory which surrounded him as occupier of the first position in the IMF’s hierarchy and leader of global international financial policies disappeared all at once as the focus shifted to his personal (mis)conduct. We saw a dishevelled man appearing in court, hemmed in by a couple of police men, to answer the charges of philandering laid against him.
DSK’s decision to quit his post at the IMF will no doubt clear the field to find an apt successor and give the necessary leadership to a world which has yet to come out of the woods from the global economic and financial crisis. The Deputy Managing Director of the IMF, John Lipsky, has taken charge but he does not appear to have the clout of a political heavyweight that the incumbent of this office should command in the international community to carry out this kind of mission convincingly. The search for a successor is complicated by the fact that at the time the IMF and the World Bank were created in 1944, it was agreed among the dominant global powers that the position of MD of the IMF should always go to a European while the President of the World Bank has to be an American.
This is still the case and it is, by prevailing on this clause, that President Sarkozy of France chose DSK to lead the IMF not only to keep a potential rival for the French presidentship out of France but also because he shared DSK’s right-wing economic policies that the latter had been showing an aptitude for since becoming the French Minister of the Economy, Finances and Industry in 1997. As Minister, DSK had gone for a wave of privatisations, extending working hours and retirement age, thus reversing the socialist policies of President Mitterrand. However, geopolitical power in the world has changed since 1944. Other countries like China have come to occupy the front stage of the global economy and there are views that a fairer representation of countries should be reflected at the head of international institutions, taking into consideration the shifts of economic power in the intervening period. DSK’s rapid fall from grace should thus be an occasion to revisit the relics of a past which has tended to consolidate power and influence in favour of the very same countries that held dominant positions at the time and were supposed to perpetuate their global hegemony.
On the other hand, DSK was seen as the presidential candidate for the Socialist Party of France in the upcoming presidential elections of 2012. He was expected to resign his IMF post in a couple of months from now to face the primaries in France, having been credited by the media and opinion polls as standing the best chance to successfully challenge Sarkozy. In that sense, the media power or maybe the global capitalist power using the media as proxy, had relegated Martine Aubry and François Hollande, the forefront leaders of the Socialist Party, as irrelevant compared with DSK. It was not a matter of who had been defending sincerely the policies espoused by a truly socialist party that had perforce to be pro-worker, but rather it was about who is more certain to secure power for the socialists. If DSK stood the best chance of snatching power from Sarkozy, others had to make way for him even though he had been an eager champion of multinational financial capital all these years and deeply steeped in pure capitalist doctrine.
With the events surrounding DSK in New York at present, it is unthinkable that he even has remote prospects of being physically in France for the primaries. The Socialist Party that had allowed itself to be swayed by ever increasing opinion polls in favour of DSK to put its weight behind DSK for the presidential election, now has to make do with second best solutions. In the meantime, Sarkozy recovers from the lows to which he had fallen, thanks to the disgrace that has hit DSK and the Socialist Party. He is clearly the beneficiary of all the disgrace that has befallen upon DSK in NY.
This episode also illustrates, if at all it was necessary, how myths are created and believed about “great” men who rule this world. In France, sexual escapades of politicians and their dabbling into corruption are even condoned as excusable rampages by the institutional set-up. The episode also shows how much those “great” men are highly vulnerable in reality to rash and impulsive conduct or to stratagems set up by rivals to wreck them. By falling into the trap of incompetence or impulsiveness, they however bring the whole pack of cards to perdition. The system demands however that we have to choose leaders to run the institutions. Those leaders do not always do justice to the trust we place in them and some of them bring more disaster than solutions to the problems they were appointed to deal with. In some cases, the individuals so appointed become too dominant in the institution to which they have been appointed and thus wreck the very institutions together with themselves when comes the moment of ruin. Fortunately, for the IMF in the current instance, this has not been the case and the world can continue repairing itself, which speaks in favour of DSK’s stewardship of the institution while he was in charge.
* Published in print edition on 20 May 2011