After several years of relative bonhomie in the U.S.-French alliance, new strains have become apparent in the wake of the arrest in New York Sunday of International Monetary Fund chief Dominique Strauss-Kahn on attempted rape charges.
According to an opinion poll published Tuesday, 57 percent of French citizens believe that Strauss-Kahn, 62, a former French finance minister who had been presumed frontrunner in France's 2012 presidential elections, was the victim of a setup. Some French media, meanwhile, including Paris Match magazine, have identified the Guinean-born U.S. immigrant maid and widowed mother, 32, who has accused Strauss-Kahn of trying to illegally detain and rape her. French reporters also interviewed sources on the question of the woman's relative attractiveness.
Strauss-Kahn's lawyers "apparently declared they were surprised to discover "her face was 'not very seductive,'' when they saw her at the lineup where she formally identified the head of the International Monetary Fund as her attacker," Paris Match reported, according to Newsweek's Christopher Dickey. "But the French tabloid France-Soir interviewed a limo driver who works with the hotel, saying the housekeeper "was a very pretty woman in her thirties, with big breasts and a beautiful rear.'"
In France, "a much louder chorus of voices ... [was] rising to declare Strauss-Kahn himself a victim," Judith Warner reports in Time. "The corps of French journalists ... appeared horrified by the fact that, in America, "his accuser's name and face were kept hidden from public view, whereas he himself was humiliatingly photographed in handcuffs and subjected to 'pitiless media pressure,' as Le Nouvel Observateur put it. 'What do we know about the chambermaid?' was a suspicious headline in the respected daily Le Monde."
Meanwhile, French humanitarian activist and philosopher Bernard-Henri Levy, who played a large role in persuading French President Nicolas Sarkozy to intervene in Libya, published a piece in the Daily Beast that sought to heap suspicion on the story of the African immigrant hotel maid. Levy argued that it was unusual for hotel maids to go by themselves into luxury hotel suites such as the room Strauss-Kahn was using at New York's Sofitel hotel. Levy insisted that it's more common for such suites--which in Strauss-Kahn's case, cost $3000 per night--to command a team of maids. (The New York Times' Maureen Dowd counters that she has stayed frequently at the New York Sofitel and never seen such a maid brigade; she compares such French conspiracy theories to the overheated speculation that took root in Pakistan in the wake of the U.S. raid that killed Osama bin Laden.)
Defense lawyers for Strauss-Kahn suggested Tuesday that the IMF chief may argue in his defense that any sexual activity between himself and the hotel maid was consensual, the New York Times reported Tuesday.
It remains to be seen whether that argument will fly with a U.S. jury. In the meantime, U.S. Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner weighed in Tuesday to say Strauss-Kahn is "obviously not in a position" to run the IMF any longer, and urged that an interim managing director be named.