The International Monetary Fund is no stranger to controversy, having been derided as both a western tool for globalization and a financial crutch for irresponsible governments of developing nations.
Its most recent bout, triggered by the salacious criminal saga of its hastily departed managing director, is hardly the kind of attention an intergovernmental organization wants in the middle of a global financial crisis.
In that light, the arrival of its annual meeting in Washington, D.C., in concert with the World Bank, is both good and bad timing. Ousted leader Dominique Strauss-Kahn will be something of a ghost-like figure, while his successor and French compatriot Christine Lagarde brings her considerable warmth and steely blue eyes to the proceedings.
The annual meeting, which officially runs Sept. 23-25, may also be upstaged by two reports earlier in the week, the World Economic Outlook (WEO), and Global Financial Stability reports. Commodity price volatility and job growth will also be major issues under discussion.
By the time, Lagarde, as well as World Bank President Robert B. Zoellick, take the stage Sept. 22, there will be plenty of economic-political chumin the global economy's uncharted waters.
Lagarde not long ago was France's finance minister, and given her appointment to that post by President Nicholas Sarkozy may have better information and insights than Strauss-Kahn—long ago a finance minister himself—whose presidential aspirations were well known at the time of his troubles.
Unlike the Asian financial crisisalmost 15 years ago, the IMF has played a secondary role in the current crisis brewing in Europe. It's something of a junior partner to the European Union in the Greece bailout package, and, given the vast sums of money involved, it seems a bit poor for the task.
After all, Greece's aid package—like its debt problem—is bigger than those of Thailand, South Korea, Indonesia, Malaysia, and the Philippines combined from the Asia contagion of 1997.