Skip to Content
Alumni profile

Vali Nasr, PhD ’91

Political scientist critiques Obama foreign policy
June 18, 2013

When Vali Nasr set out to write his latest book, he knew he would be ruffling feathers. What else would you expect when a former top State Department aide criticizes the foreign policy of the presidential administration he worked for?

Vali Nasr,  PhD ’91

“There is a great deal of thirst for this discussion,” Nasr says. “Now that the election is behind us, we have another four years with myriad problems to face—from Syria to North Korea.”

In the book, The Dispensable Nation: American Foreign Policy in Retreat, he argues that the Obama administration’s fear of political backlash and terrorism has crippled diplomatic efforts and led to failing relationships in the Middle East. Publication of the book in April caps a momentous year for Nasr, his first as dean of Johns Hopkins University’s Paul H. Nitze School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS) in Washington, D.C.

Nasr, who was born in Tehran, has deep roots in the Boston academic community. He earned a BA in international relations at Tufts University and then a master’s degree from its Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy before earning his PhD in political science at MIT. His dissertation on political Islam and Pakistan examined tensions that would figure prominently in the Arab Spring and the increasing influence of Islamic political parties.

“It was a first attempt to look at Islamic fundamentalism not as ideology, but what happens to it when it participates in the political process,” he says.

Nasr was a professor at Fletcher when his 2007 book, The Shia Revival: How Conflicts within Islam Will Shape the Future, led to an appointment in the State Department’s newly created Office of the Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan in 2009. This experience inspired his new book. “The larger aim of the book is to force a debate on where American policy stands today and on the degree of our engagement in the Middle East, in South Asia,” he says.

Since becoming dean at SAIS, Nasr has had less time to publish. He lives with his wife, Darya Nasr, a technology executive, and their three children, sons Amir and Hossein and daughter Donia. In his spare time, he enjoys playing soccer, reading fiction, and spending time with his family. 

Even as head of a preëminent U.S. institution of international affairs, he sometimes misses the vibrant intellectual community in the Boston area.

But, he notes, “I don’t miss the winters!”

Keep Reading

Most Popular

Conceptual illustration of a therapy session
Conceptual illustration of a therapy session

The therapists using AI to make therapy better

Researchers are learning more about how therapy works by examining the language therapists use with clients. It could lead to more people getting better, and staying better.

street in Kabul at night
street in Kabul at night

Can Afghanistan’s underground “sneakernet” survive the Taliban?

A once-thriving network of merchants selling digital content to people without internet connections is struggling under Taliban rule.

Conceptual illustration showing a file folder with the China flag and various papers flying out of it
Conceptual illustration showing a file folder with the China flag and various papers flying out of it

The US crackdown on Chinese economic espionage is a mess. We have the data to show it.

The US government’s China Initiative sought to protect national security. In the most comprehensive analysis of cases to date, MIT Technology Review reveals how far it has strayed from its goals.

IBM engineers at Ames Research Center
IBM engineers at Ames Research Center

Where computing might go next

The future of computing depends in part on how we reckon with its past.

Stay connected

Illustration by Rose WongIllustration by Rose Wong

Get the latest updates from
MIT Technology Review

Discover special offers, top stories, upcoming events, and more.

Thank you for submitting your email!

Explore more newsletters

It looks like something went wrong.

We’re having trouble saving your preferences. Try refreshing this page and updating them one more time. If you continue to get this message, reach out to us at customer-service@technologyreview.com with a list of newsletters you’d like to receive.