Vali Of The Shadow

I’m here to lend some tea and sympathy to Vali Nasr, the scholar of political Islam who now works as Richard Holbrooke’s Pakistan adviser. Nasr is a smart guy and an enthusiastic Twitterer. The problem is his job gets in the way of those two things.

See, I follow Vali Na– sorry, I follow @vali_nasr, because I want to get a sense of his Twitterborne wisdom. Put another way, I think I have a sense of how Vali Nasr sees the world, but I want to know how @vali_nasr sees the world. Alas, @vali_nasr is less a provocative and insightful observer than he is a link aggregator. He wants you to know what the New York Times, the Washington Post and the Wall Street Journal have written about the Middle East and South Asia, and foreign events in general. Sometimes he’ll suggest you to subscribe to Time‘s RSS feed. Mostly he’ll repackage a story’s subhed and use it as his commentary. Basically, @vali_nasr’s take on 9 plus 3 is that it equals 12.

There’s something fascinatingly vapid about Vali Nasr’s use of @vali_nasr. The vast majority of the 234 people who follow @vali_nasr, I would wager, read what the New York Times, Washington Post and Wall Street Journal write on foreign affairs quite regularly, needing no prompt from @vali_nasr. What they want to see is whether Richard Holbrooke’s Pakistan adviser has a specific quick observation about something relevant to the Obama administration’s Pakistan strategy. But that would be career suicide. So instead you get @vali_nasr nudging you to ask if you’ve seen that latest NYT story about Copenhagen. Actually, I have!

This poor bastard tweets too much to not enjoy using Twitter. And given the emphasis that his colleagues Vikram Singh and Ashley Bommer devote to new communications technology, it’s not like he doesn’t know whom to turn for tips on becoming a better tweeter. And if the point of becoming @vali_nasr is to accomplish some policy objective — let people in Pakistan know what R-Hol’s Pak dude is thinking, maybe? — then that would be a worthwhile use of time. But if the guy just wants to use Twitter but knows his job won’t let him tell you what he thought of MTV’s decision to excise the Snooki Punch from the last episode of Jersey Shore but still put the footage out in its promos — then I just feel bad for both Vali Nasr and @vali_nasr.

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Spencer Ackerman

Spencer Ackerman