The note was written in response to a message of congratulations on Obama's election. It was delivered via the U.S. embassy, so I assume the appropriate embassy officer looked it over before it was sent to its addressee. The key phrase in the note is a generic pleasantry that reads, in English:
"I am certain that we will be able to work together, in the coming four years, in a spirit of peace and friendship to build a safer world."
Everything seems to be in order. But the kicker is that the note was written to the former President of France, Jacques Chirac, not to the man who replaced him almost two years ago, Nicolas Sarkozy.
Le Figaro is reading political significance into the note because they assume the use of the word "peace" was a veiled reference to Obama's differences with current-President Sarkozy over the war in Iraq. For all I know, maybe it was. Maybe Obama is sending subtle digs at Sarkozy. But I find it odd that Obama would deliberately associate his policies with a has-been French politician who left office with a trail of scandals behind him.
Anyone who has worked in Washington for more than a week knows not to attribute intent to something that can be explained just as well by incompetence. It is entirely plausible that the note was drafted by a protocol guy in the embassy who more or less automatically produced a safely bland and unobjectionable President-to-Président sentiment, and just didn't quite focus on the implications of Obama pledging to work harmoniously for the next four years with someone who is no longer President of France. A plain old gaffe is so much more likely than a fiendishly clever veiled message. I'll bet the only message associated with this note was the Homeric "D'oh!" that sounded in the political section of U.S. Embassy Paris after the text was published.
Here's the quote from Le Fig with the text of the note in French:
Le président américain vient d'adresser une lettre très sympathique à Jacques Chirac, selon l'expression de ce dernier. "Je suis certain que nous pourrons au cours des quatre années à venir collaborer ensemble dans un esprit de paix et d'amitié afin de construire un monde plus sûr," écrit le successeur de George W. Bush au prédécesseur de Nicolas Sarkozy. En évoquant le mot de paix, Obama rend un hommage implicite à l'action de l'ancien président français qui s'était opposé à la guerre en Irak. Une intervention américaine contre laquelle le futur président américain s'était opposé comme sénateur, lors du vote au Congrès.
It could have been worse. At least the note didn't come with a pile of American-format DVDs of Hollywood classics. On the other hand, Chirac has unlimited free time these days so maybe he would have appreciated that, especially if any of those classic films featured Jerry Lewis.