According to the French newspaper, Le Figaro, President Barack Obama has written a letter to French former president Jacques Chirac using language more commonly used when writing to current heads of state (via Monsters and Critics):
Paris -US President Barack Obama has indirectly praised former French president Jacques Chirac's fierce opposition to the US-led invasion of Iraq, the online edition of the daily Le Figaro reported on Thursday.
In a letter described by Chirac as 'very nice,' Obama wrote, '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.'
The use of the word 'peace' was taken to be an indirect reference to Chirac's stance against the US intervention in Iraq, which Obama had also opposed as senator.
Of course, if Bush had done this, we would have weeks of jokes on TV about how he doesn't know who the President of France is.
It has been reported that Nicolas Sarkozy has been trying to get an invitation to the White House, so Sarkozy might already be somewhat put off. Since I seem to recall that Obama has met Sarkozy, I doubt that Obama simply forgot who the President of France is, but it's possible.
The likelier possibilities are that:
(1) Obama was trying to send some sort of insulting message to Sarkozy, or
(2) Obama was clueless about how a letter suggesting that he wanted to work with Chirac "in the coming four years" would be interpreted by Sarkozy or the French press, much as he was clueless about his snub of British PM Gordon Brown.
As a possible reason for writing Chirac, consider this Wikipedia entry on what Chirac has been doing since he left office:
After his presidency ended, Chirac became a lifetime member of the Constitutional Council of France. He sat for the first time in the Council on 15 November 2007, six months after leaving the French Presidency. Immediately after Sarkozy's victory, Chirac moved into a 180 square meters duplex on the Quai Voltaire in Paris lent to him by the family of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri. During the Didier Schuller affair, the latter accused Hariri of having participated to the illegal funding of the RPR's [Rally for the Republic's] political campaigns, but the justice closed the case without further investigation. On 11 April 2008, Chirac's office announced that he had undergone successful surgery to fit a pacemaker. In January 2009 it was reported that Chirac had been hospitalized after being attacked by his pet Maltese poodle, who had been medicated with antidepressants.
Shortly after leaving office, he founded the Jacques Chirac Foundation for Sustainable Development and Cultural Dialogue.
If we could see the address on the letter to Chirac, it might be clear whether Obama or one of his staff was confused about the identity of the French President. My guess is that this was just a rookie mistake, i.e., bad diplomacy in wording a letter, not confusion about identities.
More at GatewayPundit.
UPDATE: More evidence that Obama is intentionally dealing with former heads of state.
2d UPDATE: As noted by the Christian Science Monitor and elsewhere, the context was the one I suspected. Obama was writing to Chirac as the head of his Foundation for Sustainable Development and Cultural Dialogue.