Fresh off the heels of snubbing Gordon Brown by not holding a joint press conference with him and giving him a gift that could have been purchased at Wal-Mart, Barack Obama has annoyed Nicolas Sarkozy by sending a mash note to former French president Jacques Chirac asserting that, “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.”

Sarkozy is reportedly miffed and at least one cartoonist, Herve Baudry, is having a field day.

News of this was broken by Le Figaro on Thursday but the combination of the story appearing only in French (unlike every other major European country, there are no English versions of the major papers) and intervention of a weekend, the controversy is just catching steam stateside. The U.S. blog Monsters and Critics seems to have broken the story in English and a minor furor has broken out over this in the American blogosphere. 

For its part, the administration has been silent on the matter, giving no indication as to why it has reached out to a 76-year-old man who is almost certainly retired from active politics.  One presumes, however, that it was not a backhanded attempt to embarrass the incumbent president of France.

My colleague Jeff Lightfoot suggests that Obama was referring to Chirac’s Foundation for Sustainable Development and Cultural Dialogue.  CSM’s Jimmy Orr thinks this a likely rationale as well and points to an article (also in French, naturally) in The New Observer explaining that Obama was merely sending a polite response to a letter Chirac had written him in his capacity as foundation head.

In any case, two things are clear:  The Obama administration has been a touch tone deaf in the early going about the symbolism of its interactions with our European allies.  And some foreign leaders have surprisingly fragile egos.

James Joyner is managing editor of the Atlantic Council.  

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