Wednesday, January 26, 2011


STRATFOR can't write. This is my conclusion after reading their newsletter for several months now. I once accused them of using conjunctions to subtly editorialize, but now I think that, well, they just can't write.

This isn't to say that they can't analyze world politics. Maybe they can. I'm not so sure now that what they say is what they mean. Conjunctions and complex sentences give them fits.

Am I being too hard on them? As they say, you be the judge of this paragraph from today's newsletter:
Hezbollah with a backing of Syria engineered a collapse of the Lebanese government. Once the Lebanese government fell apart, premonitions of a return to civil war started making their appearance in the Lebanese media. In this whole scenario though, Syria and Hezbollah knew that they held the upper hand. If anyone wanted to avoid a bigger conflict, and that includes the Americans, the Saudis, and many of Lebanon’s own factions, then they would have to come to Syria to negotiate on Syrian terms. Those terms meant getting rid of Prime Minister Saad al-Hariri and also neutralizing the Special Tribunal for Lebanon investigating his father’s murder, and that investigation was putting at risk a number of Hezbollah and Syrian officials.
That last sentence? Why isn't that a relative clause? "And that"?? Or try this sentence from the same newsletter:
Now a compromise candidate of sorts, Najib Mikati, has been nominated as Lebanon’s next prime minister. According to Lebanese law, the prime minister has to be Sunni. This is causing a lot of anger among Lebanon’s Sunnis who are outraged that Lebanon’s next prime minister is someone who’s been nominated by their archrivals in Hezbollah. Now we have a situation where Lebanon’s Sunnis are the ones leading violent protests in the country and everyone is appealing for calm. And again this works in Hezbollah’s favor, for once they are not seen as the propagators of violence, the Sunnis are, and Hezbollah is using this to sow more divisions within the Sunni camp.
"This is causing anger"? What's "this"? The way it's written, it's the law requiring the prime minister to be Sunni, and that, frankly, makes no sense. Here we need a "even though according" or "despite the fact that according". Or does it? Once we know that Mikati is a Sunni (though we won't find that out from this report), we see that the whole "According to Lebanese law" sentence ought to be a parenthetical, if it actually needs to be there at all. The paragraph is a mess.

Of course, it may seem like I'm beating up on someone whose doing quite a good job in a second language; after all, the analysis was written by someone who - judging by their name - is not a native speaker of English. But I'm not. I'm talking about STRATFOR, who claim to use "powerful analysis based on geopolitics to produce penetrating explanations of world events. This independent, non-ideological content enables users not only to better understand international events, but also to reduce risks and identify opportunities in every region of the globe," and who are an American-founded, -based, and -led organization. If they can't produce reports in clear English, they've got a problem - or rather, we do, given who reads and relies on those reports.

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