Nicolas Sarkozy and Dominique Stauss-Kahn were never friends - one conservative, the other Socialist, their political ambitions setting them on a collision course. Yet, soon after Sarkozy's 2007 election as President of France, he surprised most people by nominating Strauss-Kahn to be Managing Director of the International Monetary Fund, a heartening reach across party lines. Others, however, saw a more devious motive: Sarkozy was moving his most potent challenger to the IMF's Washington, D.C. headquarters and depriving the freshly defeated Socialist Party of his charisma and leadership. The last four years, according to political observers in France, have been full of similar subtle and not-so-subtle maneuvers as both men prepared for what had been prophesied as a fierce battle for the French Presidency in 2012.
Sarkozy has taken the requisite "innocent until proven guilty" position about Strauss-Kahn and his catastrophic legal situation in the U.S. But few observers believe the French President is grieving. Sarkozy knew he had been lucky back in 2007 not to have faced the popular Strauss-Kahn at the polls (instead, the Socialists fielded the attractive but disorganized SÉgolÈne Royal.) During a 2006 lunch discussion, a Sarkozy adviser told TIME how relieved he and his boss were that Strauss-Kahn was not running. "Of course," said the adviser with a smile, "if he did run, he'd probably ruin his own chances by getting caught in some woman's bed."
Indeed, certain analysts argue that the French President may have been betting on rather cynical odds: that by sending a notorious libertine to the puritanical Mecca of America in the first place - and to the political correct strictures of the rigid IMF in particular - Sarkozy was simply giving Strauss-Kahn enough rope to hang himself with. That may explain why it was that on Monday, the daily Le Figaro quoted Sarkozy responding to the news out of New York with a reminder that he'd alerted Strauss-Kahn of the risks of being a seducteur. "I warned him about this!"
Sarkozy wasn't the only one. Shortly after Strauss-Kahn won the IMF job, Jean Quatremer - a journalist for the left-leaning LibÉration, wrote in an otherwise glowing profile of Strauss-Kahn that "the only real problem for Strauss-Kahn is his relation to women. Too forward. He often borders on harassment. It is a problem known to the media but that nobody talks about (we are in France). And the IMF is an international organization with Anglo-Saxon sensibilities. One out-of-line move and..."
Already sensitive to the issue, Strauss-Kahn's staff were not happy with the comment. This week Quatremer recalled that "a few hours after the publication of this piece, I receive a call from Ramzi Khiroun, one of Dominique Strauss-Kahn communcation people: 'We know you like DSK [as he is known in France] and we don't understand at all why your published this piece.' The tone was friendly (he spoke to me with the informal 'tu' although we'd never met), not angry, just saddened: how could I have done such an underhanded thing to his mentor?... I knew that I was breaking a taboo. And Ramzi Khiroun even dared to ask me to erase the piece from my blog 'so as not to harm Dominique.' Such a scene is unimaginable in a modern democracy."
As it turned out, Quatremer (and Sarkozy) were prescient. In 2008, Strauss-Kahn was forced to admit he'd engaged in a sexual affair with Hungarian economist Piroska Nagy - who was his subordinate at the IMF. It was not quite the fatal misstep: Strauss-Kahn, though reprimanded, kept his job. Nagy eventually lost hers as part of a cost-cutting measure.