Will DSK ‘lead France or the world’?
By Christopher Dickey, who is the Paris Bureau Chief for Newsweek Magazine. The opinions expressed are his own.
Dominique Strauss-Kahn has been on top of the world of late, but maybe that’s not where he really wants to be. Almost by default, the managing director of the International Monetary Fund keeps accruing power in the midst of crisis.
Two years ago, when the global economy teetered on the brink like a house in a mudslide, the newly formed group of the world’s 20 richest countries turned to Strauss-Kahn and the IMF to help shore up the foundations. And the G20 keeps coming back, most recently at the summit in Seoul, seeking his assistance to avert a currency war while continuing to increase IMF resources.
Strauss-Kahn, 61, has never experienced quite so much adulation, nor, indeed, affirmation of his centrist political and economic views. As France’s finance minister in the Socialist government of Prime Minister Lionel Jospin during the 1990s, DSK (as he’s known in his homeland) was obviously at odds with his party’s own ideologues. He managed to get the government to embrace the euro, he pushed through massive privatizations of state industries, he cut taxes, and he allowed stock options. Free-marketeers the world over were sorry to see him go. But his subsequent career sank into a mire of public confusion about his policies and motives.
Today, apparently without trying, DSK is looked on by many in his country and his party as the man most likely to be elected the next president of France in 2012. The current head of state, Nicolas Sarkozy, has sunk into a trough of unpopularity so profound (hovering around 30 percent approval) that he may never be able to climb out, and no other Socialist contender comes close to DSK’s prestige. Some recent polls show that one-on-one against Sarkozy, Strauss-Kahn would win by 24 points, and that may be an underestimation. As one pollster told the French financial paper Les Echos, “We’ve never had a virtual candidate so high and a [sitting] president so low 18 months before an election.”
But the key word here is “virtual.” Strauss-Kahn is not a candidate. His IMF position precludes politicking, and if he stays in Washington until the end of his term at the fund in 2012, that will be too late for him to run. Indeed, plans for a Socialist Party primary probably will force him to declare his candidacy no later than the summer of 2011 – if he wants the French presidency at all. In the meantime, speculation runs rampant.
In late October, Newsweek asked on the cover of its European edition whether Strauss-Kahn was “ready to lead France … or the world?” The question suddenly dominated the French political debate. But, still, DSK has remained coy. He’s been around enough to know that his absence from France may have made French hearts grow fonder.
“If I were to tell you I’m not touched by these polls, that would be a lie,” he told France Inter a couple of weeks later. “My ego is not smaller than those of some other people, so when the French appreciate me, I’m delighted.” But then he wondered aloud if it might be the role of the IMF rather than the man DSK that impressed the French the most. “I’m doing my work today [at the fund] and that’s the only thing that matters to me,” he said … then.