Whatever the rights and wrongs of the situation in which Dominique Strauss-Kahn currently finds himself, the US Treasury Secretary was clearly right to say he was "not in a position to run the IMF". Adding his voice to that of European officials who have hinted broadly that Mr Strauss-Kahn should step down, Timothy Geithner said directly that the IMF's executive board should designate an interim head.
In the short term, that might well be the optimum solution. It is understandable that Mr Strauss-Kahn would be reluctant to resign, not least because of how this might be interpreted. Yet the IMF cannot afford to be leaderless, especially not at present, with the global recovery still fragile and the woes of the eurozone far from over. Mr Strauss-Kahn's absence from meetings in Europe earlier this week was keenly felt. His are big shoes to fill. But the IMF has a job to do that cannot wait on the slow-turning wheels of the US judicial process.
Like any major international organisation, it is not well equipped to deal speedily with its own internal emergencies, even if solving those of others is part of its remit. And it is unfortunate that the sudden vacuum at the top comes amid mounting pressure for the IMF to appoint its first non-European managing director. Mr Strauss-Kahn's difficulties thus pose not just one question – who should take over – but whether a long-standing convention is abandoned.
At least there is no lack of candidates; aspiring IMF heads are already jockeying for position, including at least one from Turkey. France's finance minister, Christine Lagarde, would be an obvious choice but for the number of French citizens who have occupied the post. And David Cameron was quite wrong to dismiss Gordon Brown's prospects when he did.
Two imperatives work against each other here. While there is a strong argument for settling the succession fast, ending the European hold on the job is not something that should be done precipitately, and certainly not when the tribulations of the eurozone loom so large on the IMF's agenda. An interim appointment should leave that discussion open.