WASHINGTON -- Readers of this column will remember that when Dominique Strauss-Kahn was taken off an Air France flight in May, just as it was about to vamoose for Paris, I was suspicious. The story and circumstances of his adventure with the chambermaid, Nafissatou Diallo, in the Sofitel Hotel kept changing.
In the meantime, he was accorded the indignity of the perp walk. He was sent to Rickers Island, a veritable hellhole. He got up on the morning of May 14 as one of the world's most distinguished public servants. He was head of the International Monetary Fund, IMF, and apparently about to become the Socialist Party's frontrunner for the president of France. He retired that evening a convicted felon in the eyes of almost anyone familiar with his story, and I suspect slept badly.
Yet there were a handful of us who were holdouts. We said he was, according to American legal standards, innocent until proven guilty. Well, now charges against him have been dropped. He is a free man, and he and his wife flew back to Paris on Air France, flight 007. There was a smile on his face, but I wonder what was going on behind that smile. The devil take the hindmost Frenchman was still facing civil charges here and possible rape charges in France. Moreover, he was unemployed, out on his ear at the IMF and an unlikely Socialist candidate for anything at home. As Chantal Brunel of President Nicolas Sarkozy's party told Agence France-Presse, Strauss-Kahn "is going to be an indelible stain on the Socialist Party." She speculated that he "will harm the chances" of his party's presidential candidate.
Actually, at France's Charles de Gaulle airport there was a mad crush. His fans were there with his enemies, the press, the police and a singer. Yes, one fellow made a scene by singing Verdi. I wondered about him. What aria did he sing? Is there one about a rake accosting a chambermaid or even better, a chambermaid deflowering a statesman? That would make a great modern variation for Verdi. And how good a voice did the romantic fellow actually have?
There were many idiotic assessments of DSK, as he is called in France, in a sobriquet that summons up the initials JFK to Americans. Is he that charming? He looks a little dumpy. Francois Pupponi, a friend, ally and mayor of the Paris suburb of Sarcelles where Strauss-Kahn too served as mayor, spoke personally and with the wide world in mind. He told LCI television, "Let's not put pressure on him. He needs to rebuild himself. What's important is that he is back in France. He's going to be able to think about the future with clarity." And Pupponi added some claptrap about Strauss-Kahn's value to France, to Europe and to the world.
Pierre Muscovici, another friend, added, Strauss-Kahn "will be useful to his country, useful to the left, and his recognized skills will find a new use." Which skills, Muscovici was referring to is unclear. But perhaps not to former Socialist Prime Minister Michel Rocard, who noted that Strauss-Kahn "obviously has a mental illness, trouble controlling his impulses." Rocard was talking about women.
What are French women going to say about Strauss-Kahn's liberation? Anne Mansouret, the mother of the woman who has charged him with rape, says the media hubbub surrounding his homecoming was "indecent." Socialist leader Martine Aubry said Tuesday, "I think the same as many women about the attitude of Dominique Strauss-Kahn to women." She is hostile, though she is not barring him from a future post in government.
Anne-Elisabeth Moutet, an independent French journalist who has been covering the Strauss-Kahn adventure, has said it represents a huge turning point in French society and in French politics. Up until now, his behavior was accepted. From now on, it is non-plus. Having a reputation like Strauss-Kahn will cook a politician's goose...perhaps in a nice orange sauce. I am not so sure.