Louis Pauly describes how the IMF found the "sweet spot"

May 18, 2010

He’s been called a grand seducteur, a president in waiting, and Mr. Euro.

But now Dominique Strauss-Kahn, the suave, French-born head of the International Monetary Fund, has the whole world in his manicured hands, catching the plummeting Greek economy in free fall, while stroking wealthier countries who fear a knock at their door for handouts when the next big bailout comes round.

“The fund is in a sweet spot right now,” says Louis Pauly, director of University of Toronto’s Centre for International Studies. “It has a politically savvy managing director and a well-prepared technical staff. In theory, it can play a constructive role.”

The result of the massive $146 billion IMF and European Union bailout that stopped Greece from defaulting on its debt is still unclear, and it was followed by an even more gigantic $1 trillion rescue package to staunch a larger crisis in the eurozone, a move that has left markets still queasy.

But it made DSK, as he’s known in France, the flavor of the month in global circles. And it gave the once-puny lending institution more muscle than it has had in decades, propping up the shaky underpinnings of the world economy, while offering world leaders advice that is difficult to ignore.

In his long and varied career, the stocky, silver-haired Strauss-Kahn has learned to take the bitter with the sweet.

Born to a Jewish family in a wealthy Paris suburb in 1949, he spent part of his childhood in Morocco before studying law and economics. He taught at elite universities and launched a meteoric political career by running for parliament as a Socialist in 1986. Senior cabinet posts followed, including the plum post of finance minister.

At the top of his political game he was proposed for the job of IMF chief by his more right-wing rival, President Nicholas Sarkozy — possibly because he was less of a threat in faraway Washington.

Strauss-Kahn and his wife, popular television personality Anne Sinclair, became one of Washington’s must-have A-list couples. But an alpine affair during the Davos economic summit in October 2008 won the then 59-year-old IMF chief the title of “great seducer,” and landed him in the middle of an influence scandal.

by Olivia Ward. Continue reading the rest of this column at thestar.com.