UPDATE: Aha, I was right! The Christian Science Monitor reports that President Obama was merely replying to a letter from Chirac.
[W]e found out that another French newspaper, the New Observer, explained that Obama was merely replying to a Chirac letter who was writing him as the head of his foundation — the Jacques Chirac Foundation for sustainable development and cultural dialogue.
However, that brings up a whole new bouilloire des poissons, which Fausta very succintly points out (although she didn’t use “bouilloire des poissons” to describe it):
Obama’s letter was sent on March 20, the anniversary of the Iraq war.
The US still has troops in Iraq defending that country, and those troops are not only fighting but actively engaged in building a civil society.
Each and any action by the Obama administration will be closely examined. Publicly approaching a private foundation with language that can be interpreted as being against the US presence in Iraq actively undermines that effort.
So there’s that.
President Obama’s not that stupid. Really.
I’ve been reading post after post after post this morning about the president’s letter to Jacques Chirac, former president of France. Many of them (although not all) seem to presume that the letter was sent in the mistaken believe that Chirac is still the leader of France, and that Obama and his staff are so clueless as not to know that Nickolas Sarkozy has been the French president since late 2007. I refuse to believe that our president and his advisors are that idiotic. (However, I reserve the right to change my mind at any time in the future.)
Based on the actual snippet from Le Figaro, and armed with an almost complete lack of knowledge of the French language, I set out to figure out what was going on. Fortunately for me, there are online translators to assist the language-challenged. So when I fed in the following text:
“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.”
…Babelfish obligingly translated it as:
The US president comes d’ to very address a letter “sympathetic nerve” to Jacques Chirac, according to l’ expression of this last. “I am certain that we will be able during the four years to come to collaborate together in a spirit of peace and d’ friendship in order to build a surer world”, writes the successor of George W. Bush to the predecessor of Nicolas Sarkozy. While evoking the word of “peace”, Obama pays a homage implicit to l’ action of l’ former French president who s’ was opposed to the war in Iraq. An American intervention against which the future US president s’ was opposed as senator, at the time of the vote to the Congress.
I like how Babelfish leaves in the French articles in the English translation. It’s kind of cute. But however rough, you definitely get the sense of the original from the translation. And nowhere in the published text seen in Le Figaro or elsewhere is it mentioned how President Obama initially addressed M. Chirac. I think it’s extremely unlikely that there is a torn envelope in a corbeille à papiers (ha!) in M. Chirac’s living room addressed to M. le President Jacques Chirac.
In fact, after Babelfishing the comments, I think that one particular commenter, Ethan13, is probably correct:
en fait Obama répond à une lettre que Chirac lui a adressé au nom de sa Fondation pour la paix et l’environnement. ce n’est en aucun cas l’expression d’un quelconque dédain d’Obama à l’endroit de Sarkozy. c’est dommage que l’article ne précise pas le contexte de cette lettre
in fact Obama replies to a letter that Chirac addressed to him in the name of her Foundation for peace and l’ environment. this n’ is to in no case l’ expression d’ any scorn d’ Obama with l’ place of Sarkozy. c’ is damage that l’ article does not specify the context of this letter
It seems likely that Obama is simply responding to a letter from Chirac, and in his reference to working “together, in the coming four years, in a spirit of peace and friendship to build a safer world…” Obama is referring to M.Chirac’s organization, the Jacques Chirac Foundation for Sustainable Development and Cultural Dialogue, with which, no doubt, some of Obama’s minions will be working closely.
Now, having defended the president against the slings and arrows of outraged bloggers, I will go on to say this.
Does President Obama have a tin ear when it comes to politics? Clearly, yes. Is he poorly advised? Yes, and that’s putting the very nicest possible spin on it. Should he be politically savvy enough to at least wonder if a letter such as his could be misconstrued? Absolutely. Has Obama alienated yet another long-time ally? Very likely.
Is this really the change we hoped for? Votre conjecture est aussi bonne que le mien.