The French are for the millionaire. The Americans are for the maid. Among the French, three out of five think the IMF’s former managing director, Dominique Strauss-Kahn, has been framed. (Strauss-Kahn tendered his resignation as head of the IMF May 18.) Here in the USA there’s not been a reliable poll, but public sentiment is clearly against Strauss-Kahn, amplified by self-congratulation that America is a nation of laws, a maid’s word as potent as that of a millionaire, in contrast to the moral decay and deference to the rich prevalent in France.
The French, for their part, stigmatize America as a puritanical, omnipotent imperial police state, whose intelligence agencies are efficiently capable of any infamy. But even as they charge that Strauss-Kahn was set up, the French press is rather weak on identifying or even suggesting the precise mastermind or group working to destroy a man who might have been the French Socialist Party’s candidate, evicting Sarkozy from the Elysée Palace. (They miss the real damage to France's reputation, not to mention balance of payments, which is that previously women from the US or northern Europe have booked costly tours to France hoping to be seduced by Charles Boyer or Michel Piccoli or Alain Delon or, if you like heavy smokers, Jean-Paul Belmondo, or Gerard Depardieu. They will now, rather than be attacked by a Gallic sexual psychopath, elect to go straight to Italy notwithstanding the chances of a semi-senile Berlusconi jumping out of the bushes, shouting “Bunga, Bunga.”)
In Parisian financial circles some charge that this is an attack on “les juifs.” Following this line, they suggest it’s a plot by the Muslims, presumptively eager to contrive any embarrassment to a well-known Jew, and indeed ardent Zionist, also perhaps because the agent of Strauss-Kahn’s downfall, the 32-year old maid accusing Strauss-Kahn of a serious sexual assault — widely identified on French and West African websites as Nafissatou Diallo — is a Muslim from the West African nation of Guinea. (And yes, the name Diallo does ring a bell. Amadou Diallo (September 2, 1975—February 4, 1999) was a 23-year-old Guinean immigrant in New York City who was shot and killed on February 4, 1999 by four plain-clothes members of the NYPD who fired 41 rounds at him. They were all subsequently acquitted.)
Americans suggesting a conspiracy contain the usual percentage of citizens who routinely disbelieve the official account of any event, and whose current energies are primarily devoted to proving that Osama bin Laden was dead by the end of 2001 and that the Abbottabad raid was fakery from start to finish. Nano-thermite hasn’t been discovered in the Osama compound but it probably soon will.
There have been speculations about conspiracy from economic commentators who have admired Strauss-Kahn’s attempts to shake up the IMF. They quote his words in an address at George Washington University two weeks ago. “Globalization has delivered a lot … but it also has a dark side, a large and growing chasm between the rich and the poor. Clearly we need a new form of globalization to prevent the 'invisible hand' of loosely regulated markets from becoming 'an invisible fist.” They cite Joe Stiglitz, who recently remarked that “It appears that a new IMF has gradually, and cautiously, emerged under the leadership of Dominique Strauss-Kahn.”
This view of Strauss-Kahn as the tribune of the oppressed is far from universal. It is certainly not held by Greeks, whose country has been groaning under typical IMF austerity conditions attached to bailout money. Greek newspapers have offered unsparing assessments. One newspaper carried the headline “The maid resisted IMF's…rapist,” its description for what the IMF chief has inflicted on Greece.
As Desmond Lachman pointed out in the Financial Times for May 18:
“History, however, is more likely to remember [Strauss-Kahn for] his misguided handling of the eurozone debt crisis. Mr Strauss-Kahn’s decision to treat the crisis as a matter of liquidity rather than solvency led the IMF to eschew any notion of debt restructuring, or exiting from the euro, as a solution to the periphery’s public sector and external imbalance problems. Rather, he opted for draconian fiscal tightening and radical structural reform as a cure-all for Greece, Ireland and Portugal. Yet one year after the European Union and IMF’s $150 billion loan package, the Greek adjustment program is not working. Greece’s growth is in a downward spiral, with unemployment in excess of 15%…
“…the IMF chose to repeat the same conceptual policy mistake in its adjustment program for Ireland in November 2010 and in its proposed program for Portugal right now. What is even more difficult to understand is why the IMF is now also proposing that Greece should apply more of the same policy prescriptions that have brought its economy to its current parlous state.”
Such cavils notwithstanding, Paul Craig Roberts, assistant secretary of the US Treasury in Reagan’s time, stated flatly in a syndicated column last week that “Strauss-Kahn is being framed up because the IMF recently announced that ‘the age of America is over,’ that China will be the number one economy within five years. This was a massive blow to Washington, and they are taking their revenge.”
On the conspiracy-oriented Global Research site Michael Bucci drew parallels with the downfall of Eliot Spitzer, ousted from the governorship of New York because of his patronage of prostitutes. “Farther behind the curtain,” Bucci writes, “might be found investment bankers and international financiers (the Spitzer ‘soft assassins’).”
It’s true that that the New York governor’s downfall was wrought by powerful Wall Street figures who feared Spitzer would make them the target of a populist crusade. They had him followed — and exposure of his sexual transactions duly transpired.
But Spitzer was the chief conspirator in his political destruction, and so — going by the facts that so far have come to light — is Strauss-Kahn, now being devastated by a swelling catalogue of predatory and violent sexual behavior, with two French women comparing him to a sex-crazed monkey and others saying he coerced them into having sex with him.
Tristine Banon, the goddaughter of Strauss-Kahn's second wife, has claimed that he tried to rape her nine years ago, when she approached him for an interview. “It was all very, very violent,” Banon says. “I kicked out at him. He undid my bra and tried to open my jeans. While we were fighting, I used the word 'rape' to scare him.” She says that she did not report it at the time for fear of becoming “the girl who had a problem with the politician.”
“Martina,” a female newspaper reporter, told the London Times that after a group interview, “[Strauss-Kahn] got my phone number from his embassy or the Institut Francais and started calling me. He was incredibly insistent,” she continued. “He made it almost explicit that I had to sleep with him for the interview [that I had asked him for].”
Piroska Nagy, the Hungarian IMF economist with whom Strauss-Kahn had an affair in 2008, apparently wrote to her employers that he was “a man with a problem that may make him ill-equipped to lead an institution where women work under his command.”
Bernard Debre a deputy in the UMP, Sarkozy’s political party, has called the former IMF chief a “sexual delinquent” on his blog, and later told L’Express: “This is not the first time that DSK was engaged in this kind of behavior at the Sofitel. It happened several times over several years.”
DSK's Georgetown townhouse
Sarkozy hasn’t exactly helped the man he put up as IMF president by saying that he’d warned Strauss-Kahn to keep his trousers zipped as IMF chief and not to get into elevators with interns.
It’s true there are the usual anomalies in the case, and conspiracists have pounced on them. Why did the manager of the Sofitel wait at least an hour to call the cops? Maybe because the victim was semi-coherent, maybe because the French-owned midtown hotel wanted to be doubly, triply sure that this was a bona fide assault by a very high profile guest or because previous policy had been to cover up such incidents.
How come the victim was instantly equipped with a fairly high profile lawyer, Jeffery Shapiro, described as a “close family friend”? Why were Diallo and her daughter living in a Bronx apartment building normally reserved for people with AIDS? Shapiro says neither Diallo nor her daughter are thus afflicted and that it was a sublet.
There are the usual contradictory testimonies. To one person encountering him after he had made what cameras indicate was a hasty exit from his suite, Strauss-Kahn seemed very flustered. Another remembers meeting a composed and relaxed Strauss-Kahn in the elevator.
But the prosecution’s basic case seems strong, particularly when you throw in the French women’s accusations, which Strauss-Kahn as presidential candidate was already trying to pre-empt. Hotel surveillance cameras confirm Diallo’s flight from the suite, then Strauss-Kahn’s hasty departure. No one has said her tearful accounts seemed unconvincing. Why would bankers or their agents pick a 32-year old poor Muslim widow to play such a role? And if they had mounted such a precarious set-up — why did the plotters allow Strauss-Kahn to have got clear away to JFK and onto a safe flight to Paris, until he made the mistake of calling the hotel to ask if he’d left anything behind?
The newspaper Echos d’Afrique runs a column May 18 by Calixthe Beyala who repeats Bernard Debré’s charges and then writes:
“In the New York Sofitel are working many black women from Guinea. Some of them have been violated by the former IMF boss and these attacks have been suppressed by the hotel’s owners… As for the idea of a plot by Sarkozy, this is a total misunderstanding of the political situation in France. No matter what opponent, Sarkozy won’t win the next election. And just like Sarkozy, DSK was the candidate of the big financial lobbies and media powers, those who have only one aim — to reduce the Black to nothing and to pillage Africa!”
Maybe some high-up in the Sofitel hierarchy decided, when contacted for guidance by the hotel management that Saturday, that the time had come to stop covering up for Strauss-Kahn. Maybe Strauss-Kahn had phoned for a prostitute to fill in a boring half hour before lunch and Diallo arrived to clean the room at precisely the wrong moment. Maybe … Occam’s razor is still the rule: the simplest, most obvious explanation requiring the least extraneous oddities is preferable.
As a conspiracy it doesn’t look as though there’s much in the way of lift to keep it in the air in any sort of convincing shape. Strauss-Kahn belonged to the familiar phalanx of politically powerful men confident that they can get away with hitting on women, confident that either the women they’ve attacked won’t be believed or won’t dare to try to expose them. The collapse of Gov. Schwarzenegger’s marriage, amid disclosure of sensationally tacky behavior on Arnold’s part, after years of allegations about his assaults, isn’t helpful to Strauss-Kahn either.
We don’t even know the extent of the physical evidence yet, or the DNA traces from where Diallo says she spat out his semen after Strauss-Kahn forced his penis into her mouth. Strauss-Kahn has an expensive lawyer, already flirting with a “consensual” defense. These are early days. Bill Clinton must be reading the news stories amid a welter of emotion, recollected in tranquility, to borrow Wordsworth’s definition of the origin of poetry.
Alexander Cockburn can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.