If power is the ultimate aphrodisiac, as Henry Kissinger famously quipped, then it boggles the mind why so many men in positions of great authority ruin themselves on account of sexual transgression. The latest casualty of overweening sexual hubris is the International Monetary Fund's charismatic chief Dominique Strauss-Kahn, who was compelled to resign following charges of attempting to rape and sexually abuse a maid in a Manhattan hotel room. It is no secret that Mr. Strauss-Kahn, whose first two marriages ended after accusations of infidelity, has had a sordid history of sexual misbehaviour. Soon after he was sent to a New York prison, a French writer, who is a goddaughter of Strauss-Kahn's second wife, announced she would be filing a complaint about being sexually assaulted by him almost a decade ago. Three years ago, an affair he was having with a subordinate member of staff resulted in an internal IMF investigation, which concluded that the relationship had not led Mr. Strauss-Kahn to abuse his position but he had shown poor judgment. The woman maintained that although their relationship was consensual, she felt coerced; she also warned investigators that he was “a man with a problem that may make him ill-equipped to lead an institution where women work under his command.”
In his native France, which has a laissez-faire attitude towards the private lives of public figures, the arrest of Mr. Strauss-Kahn has caused tremendous shock. A country that hardly raised an eyebrow over President Francois Mitterrand's love child or his successor Jacques Chirac's wandering eye has been forced to interrogate the multi-layered ramifications of the link between sex and power. A small but vociferous section of the French has blindly rushed to Mr. Strauss-Kahn's defence and, in the process, glossed over the fact that there is a vast gulf between sexual peccadillo and sexual crime, between a relationship and rape. To treat this as a mere sex scandal is to be blind to the nature of the charges pressed against him. Only a court of law can pronounce Mr. Strauss-Kahn guilty or innocent, but the serious charges against him puts paid to his hopes of securing the Socialist Party's nomination and then going on to challenge Nicolas Sarkozy in the 2012 presidential election — a battle that seemed tilted in the challenger's favour. While it was well known that he would resign from the IMF, his sudden exit leaves the Fund without a strong leader with the requisite diplomatic skills, at a time when the organisation is in the midst of conducting sensitive negotiations with European governments about overhauling debt packages to some countries, including Greece.