Friday, May 18, 2007

Vive l'Amitié

America is losing a great friend from its shores. Gone but not to be forgotten, M. Jean-David Levitte has been French Ambassador to the US since 2002. He is being called back to France to be an international advisor to President Nicolas Sarkozy. His positive impact on relations between the two countries leaves a lasting legacy.

With impressive goodwill, perseverance, and diplomatic savoir-faire, he weathered the sophomoric, knee-jerk "Freedom Fries" era of US-French relations. He fought back, when needed, with sound logic and cool-headed tenacity, defending the ties between our nations.

I had the good fortune to meet M. Levitte in 2003, at the height of the French-bashing, where even in liberal Cambridge, Massachusetts some locals quietly threatened to picket the reception in front of the home of the French Consul to Boston. Fortunately cooler heads and Bostonian reserve prevailed.

And a good thing, too. His purpose at that reception was to honor and promote the French-American friendship that is exemplified by the groups in the US who work hard to sustain the ties between our two countries initiated by the Marquis de Lafayette. I don't recall M. Levitte's exact words at the time, but his message was clear: America and France have always been close friends, ever since Lafayette and Washington forged their deep bond. Friends can sometimes have strain in their relationships, but true friendship is a testament to loyalty.

We wish M. Levitte la bienvenue en France, and hope that his successor will have the same dedication and devotion to that friendship which has endured over two centuries. The next Ambassador will arrive in Washington at a time when there is much to celebrate. This year marks the 250th anniversary of the birth of Lafayette. A wide range of exciting activities on both sides of the Atlantic are in busy preparation, from trips to documentaries to exchanges to special exhibits. Now it's time for all of us to remember why.

May 20 is the anniversary of Lafayette's death. Please do this for me: find out who is honoring him, and honoring French-American friendship, in your community. One small way of saying merci to Lafayette, to M. Levitte, and to offer a tchin-tchin to l'Amitié.

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