The List

The 5 Biggest Losers of L'Affaire DSK

No one has exactly covered themselves in glory during the arrest and aborted prosecution of Dominique Strauss-Kahn, but it's been particularly bad for some.

FRENCH WOMEN

It appears increasingly unlikely that former IMF Managing Director Dominique Strauss-Kahn will ever face jail for the alleged attempted rape of a hotel chambermaid in New York on May 14. Although there's still significant material evidence implicating Strauss-Kahn in a sexual act of some nature -- the prosecution's case fell apart due to doubts over the victim's credibility -- and a second rape charge in France is now pending, his supporters back home are already crowing that the former IMF chief himself is the one who has been slighted and abused.

This could, unfortunately, bring to an end a rare moment of the examination of gender relations in France, vindicating those in the media who saw the trial as a set up or an overreaction by a "puritan America," uncomfortable with the French public's laissez-faire attitude toward the peccadilloes of its politicians -- never mind that philandering and attempted assault are hardly the same thing. Left out will be a discussion of how someone who has repeatedly been accused of abusing his position for sex and presided over a culture of rampant harassment in the IMF could be a serious contender for the French presidency.  

ASYLUM-SEEKERS

While misleading authorities in a criminal investigation is never justifiable, it's also not difficult to understand why someone in the position of Strauss-Kahn's accuser might not be entirely forthcoming about her background. As Yale University West Africa scholar Mike McGovern writes, "asylum claimants are often asked to perform an impossible task. They must prove they have been subject to the most crushing forms of oppression and violence ... while demonstrating their potential to become hard-working and well-adjusted citizens." She's surely not the first person to fudge things here or there on a visa application.

But the plaintiff at the center of this case also apparently misled authorities on a number of matters, including conversations with an accused drug dealer in the aftermath of the alleged rape and the fact that she was paying hundreds of dollars a month in charges on phones she claims she never knew existed. There were also inconsistencies between her statement to the police and her asylum application on whether she had been the victim of a previous rape or suffered genital mutilation in her home country, Guinea.

While the circumstances surrounding this case are certainly unusual, people who are fleeing violence, war, and repression in their home countries are understandably reluctant to be too forthcoming with authorities. The harsh lesson of this case, right or wrong, is likely to be that coming forward in the United States when you're the victim of a crime or abuse -- and an immigrant -- means opening up your past to scrutiny and putting your legal status at risk. That will make some of America's most vulnerable people even more vulnerable.    

THE PRESS

The higher they are, the harder they fall. The populist schadenfreude at a powerful man forced to do the "perp walk" is always an easy sell for the media. In the case of Strauss-Kahn, the metaphorical baggage of being the head of a Western-dominated organization that is often accused of exploiting Third World countries being charged with raping an African immigrant (As the Daily Show's Jon Stewart put it, "It's like he's posing for his own editorial cartoon!") made it irresistible. New York's tabloids, always in the mood for a bit of France-bashing, were quick to pounce: "Frog Legs It," screamed an article detailing DSK's attempt to flee the country -- just one of many memorable New York Post headlines. Even the more restrained New York Times peppered its coverage with details about the "caviar leftist," with his $3,000-a-night hotel room and expensive Porsche -- though it was unclear what any of this had to do with his predilection for sexual assault. Newspapers and magazines (including this one, to be fair) were quick to opine on the deeper meaning of Strauss-Kahn's alleged behavior and what it said about French society and international organizations, though he had never been convicted of any crime.    

The treatment of Strauss-Kahn's accuser was similarly unfair. While the French media refused to show photos of DSK's New York perp walk, several news outlets there showed no such reservations about publishing the name of his accuser. (In the United States and many other countries, newspapers do not publish the names of plaintiffs in sexual assault trials.) The chambermaid is now suing the New York Post for libel over a thinly sourced front-page story labeling her a "hooker."

In the end, the scandal has provided a much-needed moment to reflect on how high-profile criminal trials should be covered. If a plaintiff can have character flaws or even a criminal record and still be a legitimate victim, surely a defendant can be rich, sleazy, and powerful and still be unfairly accused. 

U.S.-FRENCH RELATIONS

Between French President Nicolas Sarkozy's well-documented yankophilia and the less confrontational style of Barack Obama, U.S.-French relations are generally much improved since the bad old days of Bush-Chirac and the Iraq war. But if the United States and Britain are two countries separated by a common language, the United States and France sometimes seem like a couple sleeping in separate bedrooms. Sometimes the cultural gap is pretty harmless, such as France's blasé attitude toward the Monica Lewinsky scandal or America's fascination with Sarkozy's very public courtship of Carla Bruni. But sometimes, as in French officials' outrage over the ongoing U.S. efforts to extradite French-Polish film director Roman Polanski to face trial for rape, the consequences are somewhat more serious.

The Strauss-Kahn scandal has brought back the familiar French refrain about America's out-of-control political correctness. Strauss-Kahn's friend and outspoken defender, the camera-friendly philosopher king Bernard-Henri Lévy, took the attack of the U.S. justice system a step further -- comparing the scandal to France's Dreyfus Affair, except that in this case, an innocent man was being assumed guilty, "not from his race, but from his class."

New York Times columnist Joe Nocera fired back, writing that Lévy "prefers to live in a country where the elites are rarely held to account, where crimes against women are routinely excused with a wink and a nod and where people without money or status are treated like the nonentities that the French moneyed class believe they are."

Lévy's depiction of the United States as some kind of puritan, Maoist dystopia is clearly absurd on its face. (American Vertigo, indeed.) But so is the notion that France is a racist oligarchy where women are routinely treated as sex objects by decadent male elites. Though it is sure is interesting to watch the old transatlantic stereotypes shaken up a bit.  

DOMINIQUE STRAUSS-KAHN

In the short term, it seems that (assuming all charges against him are dropped, of course), Strauss-Kahn might have a chance at a successful return to French politics. Before his arrest, he was considered almost a shoo-in for the Socialist Party's presidential nomination and even now, 49 percent of French voters and 60 percent of Socialist supporters say they want him back on the scene. The party hasn't ruled out the possibility that he could still be its candidate for the 2012 presidential election.

That being said, it's hard not to conclude that even if he walks away scot-free, Strauss-Kahn's political career has been irreparably damaged. Court proceedings, including attempted rape allegations from journalist Tristane Banon and a possible civil suit by the New York accuser, could continue to dog him for months -- not really the sort of thing the Socialist Party wants dominating the headlines during a presidential campaign season in which Sarkozy appears more vulnerable than ever.

It's certainly possible that a rehabilitated Strauss-Kahn could continue to play a significant behind-the-scenes role in French politics, but his chances at the Élysées palace seem a lot more distant than they did two months ago. And don't put your money on him seeking treatment for his philandering ways, à la Anthony Weiner. French voters wondering what it would be like to have a president better known abroad for his sexual antics than his politics need only look east to Italy.  

BERTRAND LANGLOIS/AFP/Getty Images; Scott Olson/Getty Images; JESSICA RINALDI/AFP/Getty Images; JEWEL SAMAD/AFP/Getty Images; DON EMMERT/AFP/Getty Images

The List

The WikiLeaks You Missed

From blatant bribery in India to Hugo Chávez’s war on Domino’s pizza, here are the highlights from the last four months of the secret State Department cables.

Since the first few Julian Assange-saturated months of 2011, the U.S. media have largely moved on to Arab revolutions and other sex scandals. But WikiLeaks has continued releasing embassy cables -- fewer than 16,000 of the more than 250,000 have been published so far. In contrast to its early, now-frayed partnerships with the Guardian and the New York Times, WikiLeaks is now working with local papers in countries like Peru, Haiti, and Ireland to release cables of national interest. Here are a few of the highlights:

THAILAND

With highly anticipated national elections approaching this weekend, the government certainly can't be thrilled with the State Department's candid assessments of the country's political turmoil and the health of its aging king. And the circumstances surrounding the release of the cables are controversial, to say the least.

The cables were viewed and analyzed by Andrew MacGregor Marshall, a British journalist working in Bangkok for Reuters. But the news agency decided not to publish his reporting on them due to "questions regarding length, sourcing, objectivity, and legal issues." Marshall says Reuters may be worried about the safety of its staff in Thailand, where insulting the royal family is an offense punishable by jail time. So, Marshall resigned, left Thailand, and is writing on the cables anyway.

One cable suggests that it is "hard to overestimate the political impact of the uncertainty surrounding the inevitable succession crisis which will be touched off once King Bhumibol passes" and that his presumed successor, Crown Prince Vajiralongkorn "neither commands the respect nor displays the charisma of his beloved father." Another relays reports that the king is "beset long-term by Parkinson's, depression, and chronic lower back pain."

But that's not nearly the best of it. There are some more bizarre details as well. The crown prince, according to the cables, now spends most of his time in Europe "with his leading mistress and beloved white poodle Fufu" -- the dog was named after one of his air marshals. Needless to say, Vajiralongkorn -- next in line for the throne -- isn't much loved by the Thai people. Another suggests the Thais might have a hard time accepting the crown prince's wife, Princess Srirasmi, as their queen because of a "widely distributed salacious video of the birthday celebration for the Crown Prince's white poodel Fufu, in which Srirasmi appears wearing nothing more than a G-string."

Athit Perawongmetha/Getty Images

HAITI

In collaboration with the Nation, the Haitian newspaper Haiti Liberte has released a series of cables shedding light on U.S. involvement in the country between the 2004 coup that resulted in the removal of President Jean-Bertrand Aristide and the devastating 2010 earthquake.

In 2009, for instance, the U.S. Embassy closely monitored the controversy over a proposed raise in the country's minimum wage -- Haitian workers are the lowest paid in the Western Hemisphere. Students violently protested in support of the measure in June 2009. Then-President René Préval, however, delayed signing it into law under apparent pressure from factory owners. U.S. diplomats cited a study by the Association of Industries of Haiti, arguing that the increase would devastate the country's textile sector, thereby provoking anger in Haiti over the perception that the United States was lobbying to keep the country's wages low.

In another cable dating shortly after Préval's inauguration in 2006, the U.S. Embassy stated that it "will continue to pressure Preval against joining PetroCaribe," a Latin American oil alliance led by Venezuela's Hugo Chávez. Haiti eventually joined the alliance anyway. In another, a group of ambassadors from donor countries discussed the country's upcoming (2010) election and decided to continue their support for the election despite concerns that the leftist Fanmi Lavalas party was being excluded from the vote. Although there's no smoking gun here showing U.S. interference in Haitian politics, media reports on the cables have portrayed them as a continuation of a long history of American meddling on the island.

THONY BELIZAIRE/AFP/Getty Images

INDIA

Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh is already facing a long series of corruption allegations that have prompted street protests and calls for his resignation, and the soft-spoken economist took another hit in March when the Hindu obtained a U.S. Embassy cable from WikiLeaks detailing corruption in its most blatant form.

The cable, dated July 17, 2008, describes a meeting between the embassy political counselor and Satish Sharma, a high-ranking Congress Party MP, in the run-up to a parliamentary confidence vote on a U.S.-India nuclear deal, which was expected to be close. Sharma told the embassy official that the Congress Party was working hard to ensure the Parliament's support for the deal and as proof, showed him "two chests containing cash and said that around Rupees 50-60 crore (about $25 million) was lying around the house for use as pay-offs." Another Congress official at the meeting mentioned that about $2.5 million had been paid to four MPs to ensure their support for the agreement, considered one of the Bush administration's signature foreign-policy achievements.

The release of the document caused a new uproar in parliament and renewed calls for Singh's resignation. The officials mentioned in the cable denied the charges. The Congress Party refused to discuss the cable, with Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee describing it as "a correspondence between a sovereign government and its mission abroad, and it enjoys diplomatic immunity. Therefore, it is not possible for the government to either confirm it or deny it."

NARINDER NANU/AFP/Getty Images

PAKISTAN

U.S. officials' concerns about Pakistan's nuclear program were among the highlights of the initial burst of WikiLeaks releases, but the cables have continued to have an impact on Washington's fraught relationship with Islamabad. WikiLeaks partnered in March with Pakistan's Dawn newspaper along with India's NDTV and the Hindu to release a series of cables related to Pakistan. These included a 2008 request from Pakistani Army Chief Ashfaq Kayani that the United States provide "continuous Predator coverage of the conflict area" of Pakistan's Federally Administered Tribal Areas -- confirming the open secret that Islamabad had provided far more than tacit support for the U.S. drone program, despite public statements to the contrary.

The cables also show that the United States tried in vain to urge the chief of Inter-Services Intelligence to visit India in a gesture of good faith and cooperation following the 2008 Mumbai terrorist attack. The cables also included strong criticism from then U.S. Ambassador Anne Patterson of President Asif Ali Zardari's handling of his feud with rival Nawaz Sharif and warned that he was starting to exhibit the obsessive and erratic behavior that led to the downfall of his predecessor, Pervez Musharraf.

Newly released cables also suggest that China may have continued to supply Pakistan with nuclear reactors as late as 2006, despite its agreement not to as a member of the international Nuclear Suppliers Group, contributing to growing U.S. fears of the proliferation risk posed by the Pakistan.

Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images



PERU

Peru's 2011 election, in which leftist former army officer and one-time coup leader Ollanta Humala defeated Keiko Fujimori, daughter of the country's jailed former president, may be the first time WikiLeaks revelations have had a major role in determining the outcome of an election.

The newspaper El Comercio obtained access to the cables and published reports throughout the election with new revelations about Keiko who had been leading in the polls up until election day. In one 2006 cable, U.S. officials recounted a meeting with Keiko and several other prominent Fujimoristas in which they suggest they might cut political deals with the government in order to end the "persecution" of Alberto, then imprisoned in neighboring Chile. For those wary of the Fujimoris, the cable reinforced the perception that Keiko was running simply to restore the political reputation of her family -- though Keiko had promised that if elected she wouldn't pardon her father. Equally damning was another indicated U.S. concerns that drug traffickers had infiltrated the Peruvian government and were tied to Keiko's campaign. The candidate was forced to admit that she had taken campaign contributions from an alleged trafficker. 

The revelations were certainly not the only reason for Keikos defeat, but with the two candidates running neck and neck for much of the race, their impact can't be discounted.

MARTIN BERNETTI/AFP/Getty Images

JAPAN

Just days after the deadly earthquake and tsunami that caused a nuclear disaster at Japan's Fukushima Daiichi power plant, Britain's Telegraph reported on cables from December 2008 that quote an international nuclear official warning that the country's nuclear facilities were vulnerable to seismic activity.

The unnamed International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) official reportedly "explained that [Japan's] safety guides for seismic safety have only been revised three times in the last 35 years and that the IAEA is now reexamining them."

In addition, the Japanese government opposed a court order to shut down another plant that did not meet earthquake-preparedness standards, according to the cable.

Aside from Japan, cables have raised concerns about nuclear safety in countries ranging from Vietnam to Azerbaijan to India.

ODDS AND ENDS

A number of other countries have been WikiLeaked in recent days, including Ireland, where the Independent newspaper obtained a massive tranche of cables in which U.S. officials dish on everything from local Islamic extremists, to the Catholic Church sex scandal, to the Northern Ireland peace process. The cables' assessments of Irish politicians are quite blunt and contrast with the warm sentiments President Barack Obama expressed during his recent visit to the island. One cable says that then incoming Prime Minister Brian Cowen's nickname BIFFO, or "Big, Ignorant Fucker from Offaly," suits him "especially well."

Ecuadorean officials have strongly denied allegations made in cables that suggest President Rafael Correa received campaign donations from Colombia's FARC rebels.

A 2007 cable released by a Taiwanese paper discusses a rumor that China's finance minister may have been forced to step down after it was discovered that he had an affair with a Taiwanese honey-pot spy.

A cable on Venezuelan arms exports to Russia provides clues on where Libya's Muammar al-Qaddafi may be getting his surface-to-air missiles. On the lighter side, there's President Hugo Chávez's bizarre war on Western fast-food outlets, with health officials subjecting chains like McDonald's to near daily inspections. Regulators "explained that in the case of Domino's, 'two for one Tuesdays' discriminated against persons … who would like to eat pizza on the other days of the week."

KAZUHIRO NOGI/AFP/Getty Images