Merci, Danke, Cheers and Happy Thanksgiving

Posted: Nov 22, 2007 12:01 AM
Merci, Danke, Cheers and Happy Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving is the family holiday. The turkey and pumpkin pie bring all the generations together without the bribe of gifts. The main event is the feast that joins good food and good conversation, along with the rediscovery of cousins -- first and maybe second and sometimes once removed.

This is the first year that none of my children or grandchildren will be at the table. My son is photographing lemurs in Madagascar; my grandsons and their mother are visiting the "other" family in Chile, where they'll talk turkey in Spanish; and another daughter and her twins ordered their turkey from KaDeWe, the famous department store in Berlin, which features exotic delicacies. Otherwise they probably would dine on sauerbraten because turkey is not exactly a popular dish in Germany (and our Thanksgiving elsewhere is just a large dinner for a Thursday night in November).

I'll enjoy the holiday with my extended family even if I can't supply my children, but nevertheless I have had lots of time to imagine whom I'd invite to a fantasy Thanksgiving meal only for grown-ups. Because Thanksgiving is about friendship as well as family, I'd invite leaders from three countries who have renewed and reaffirmed their friendships with us -- Great Britain, France and Germany.

It hasn't been all that long since Donald Rumsfeld kissed off France and Germany as "old Europe," suggesting they were no longer among our firmest friends. "Germany has been a problem, and France has been a problem," the former secretary of state said on the eve of the war in Iraq, which Berlin and Paris opposed. He was sure the center of European gravity had shifted eastward.

The British, who sometimes nap when their national security interests are first threatened, mocked Tony Blair as George W. Bush's "poodle" and expected his successor as prime minister, Gordon Brown, to wag his tail in a different direction. But Brown has shown himself to be a bigger dog for all that. When he came to Camp David in July, he was eager to create an image independent of Tony Blair and suggested a distance had developed between Great Britain and the United States. In his latest foreign-policy speech, he went out of his way to change that impression. America remains our "most important bilateral relationship," he said. That means "we're still closest friends." He emphasized the ties that bind are "founded on values we share" and described himself as a "lifelong admirer of America." These words put to rest the suspicion that his appreciation for Americans didn't extend much beyond "East Coast intellectuals of a liberal bent," as London's Economist magazine put it.

It didn't escape his notice that France and Germany conspicuously have been building stronger relationships with us. If German Chancellor Angela Merkel signaled she would call for tougher measures against Iran if diplomacy fails, Gordon Brown threatened tougher sanctions, too. But Merkel had the edge, as she showed when she visited the Bushes at Prairie Chapel Ranch. The contrast with her predecessor, Gerhard Schroeder, who had a frosty relationship with President Bush, said it all.

This month it's Nicolas Sarkozy who's out to win American hearts and minds. His wife dissed the Bushes' invitation to lunch when she visited Maine this summer, but the French prime minister couldn't have been more exuberant in his affection for America than on his visit to Washington this month, showing he has a longer memory than many of his constituents.

"The United States and France remain true to the memory of their common history, true to the blood spilled by their children in common battles," he told a joint session of Congress. "But they are not true merely to the memory of what they accomplished together in the past. They remain true, first and foremost, to the same ideal, the same principles, the same values that have always united them."

Francois Mitterrand, a former prime minister, once boasted that France was in "a permanent war" with America over taste and power. Sarkozy is more observant. "Our children dream of learning about the American way of life and the things that Americans like doing," he writes in his book, "Testimony." Jacques Chirac, the prime minister Americans loathed most, is French toast.

Sarkozy, whom the French sometimes call "Sarko the American," is more like Tony Blair the Englishman in the newest power dynamic, though hardly a poodle, French or otherwise. George W. raised a glass to him in French: "Bienvenue a la Maison Blanche." At my imaginary Thanksgiving table, I would raise my glass in French, German and English, offering appreciation and gratitude for our friendship. So cheers, merci and danke schon. Happy Thanksgiving to us all.