Jacob Heilbrunn

France's New Napoleon: The Resurrection of Dominique Strauss-Kahn

Dominique Strauss-Kahn may have sealed his election as president of France in 2012. With the New York Times reporting that the case is on the verge of "collapse," Strauss-Kahn will almost surely emerge as a Napoleonic figure from exile. He, too, has endured ignominious imprisonment only to escape his malevolent captors and return to defend la patrie. For the French Socialist Party this could be a golden moment.

Poor Sarkozy! He must have thought that with his biggest rival out of the way a possible return to office loomed. Now, however, the big story is Strauss-Kahn, the man who stared down the prurient American media and political establishment to win big. The word is that the chambermaid has been playing fast and loose with the facts and that prosecutors may have to settle for a misdemeanor, but even that may not occur. Strauss-Kahn can now present himself, not the maid, as the wronged party. Pretty soon Strauss-Kahn may go from a jump-suit to lodging his own suit against the American justice system.

But his sweetest revenge, obviously, is running for the French presidency. Imagine the discomfort of President Obama and other world leaders as they greet Strauss-Kahn. Presumably Obama will not afford him a lavish state dinner. For his part, Strauss-Kahn appears to have had a narrow escape. He will have to confine any further escapades to France, where his behavior has raised nary an eyebrow until recently. His return to France might, as with Napoleon's triumphant entrance in March 1815, trigger jubilant crowds welcoming back France's wronged hero. Napoleon soon installed himself in the Tuileries. It didn't last long. But Strauss-Kahn might well have a more fortunate reign as president. He could improve relations with Germany's Angela Merkel, which the impetuous Sarkozy has bungled. Strauss-Kahn can present himself as the sober elder statesmen who has weather the personal storms in his life. Who better to lead France?

For the French, however, the case does provide one imponderable. The prosecutors themselves have investigated the maid and found her wanting. So it won't be possible to argue that the American justice system amounts to a kangaroo court. But there will likely be a new upsurge in France against American political correctness. Strauss-Kahn may even be viewed by some in France as a freedom fighter against an oppressive America.