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Visiting professor helps UCLA bolster its expertise on contemporary Iran
Dalia Dassa Kaye

Visiting professor helps UCLA bolster its expertise on contemporary Iran

Dalia Dassa Kaye's winding journey has brought her to UCLA until March 2012.

Iran has long been sources of inspiration for artists, writers, scholars and commentators. From discussions of its global influence to discourse on its distinct political and cultural history, Iran plays an important role in our understanding of the world. UCLA has a long history of integrating Iranian studies into its humanities programs, and the university is now working to strengthen its expertise in the area of contemporary Iran and the role this country plays in the region from the social science perspective.

A recent addition to the UCLA International Institute, one that fits well into this framework, is Dalia Dassa Kaye, who has joined the Institute and the Burkle Center for International Relations as a visiting professor until March 2012.

Dassa Kaye, the daughter of an Israeli dance choreographer who came to America in the 1950s in search of creative opportunities in New York City, grew up in Rancho Park, Calif., and says that spirited discussions of politics and global affairs informed her earliest lessons in international education.

“When you have a parent who’s not from this country, it piques your interest and causes you to start thinking outside your country.”

These interests led her to participate in a high school abroad program on a kibbutz in northern Israel with a group of other American teenagers when she was just 16. She later studied at Hebrew University in Jerusalem for a year during college and traveled to Egypt and other neighboring Arab countries in subsequent years for research.

She says her questions about life in the Middle East were taking form at that time. Among them was her desire to better understand why conflict exists there and why it is was so difficult to resolve.

“I was a bit naïve at that time,” says Dassa Kaye, who holds undergraduate and graduate degrees from UC Berkeley. “Over time I came to understand the many reasons why this is such a difficult challenge.”

It has been a long and winding journey.

Following her undergraduate work at Berkeley, she was awarded the John Gardner fellowship in public service, which allowed her to move to Washington D.C. and gain some practical experience in foreign affairs by working on Capitol Hill. She returned to graduate school at Berkeley seeking more analytic skills to study international and Middle East politics, and returned to Washington during her graduate studies as a Brookings Research Fellow. After receiving her doctorate, she taught at George Washington University, where she was an assistant professor of political science and international affairs.   

She later spent three years living in The Hague, Netherlands, with her husband, Professor David Kaye of the UCLA School of Law. There, she joined the Dutch Foreign Ministry in the policy planning division, specializing in transatlantic relations and Middle East policy, as a Council on Foreign Relations International Affairs Fellow. She also taught a class on international relations of the Middle East at the University of Amsterdam and was a visiting scholar at the Netherlands Institute of International Relations.

 “It was a very interesting window into European politics and some of the tensions there, says Dassa Kaye, who returned to California in 2005 after accepting a position at the RAND Corporation, where she is currently a senior political scientist. “It really rounded out my perspective of the Middle East.”

Although her early work was largely rooted in the study of the Arab-Israeli conflict, her work evolved to include broader regional security issues, including Iranian politics, Iran’s role in the Middle East, its rivalry with Israel in recent years, its external policies and American policies toward it. She is currently working on papers related to U.S. Iran strategy, the Arab Spring and arms control in the Middle East.

“Iran is a really interesting prism in which to look at the general dynamics of political relationships among all countries in the region,” says Dassa Kaye, whose articles and commentary have been published in Security Studies, Political Science Quarterly, International Negotiation, The Washington Quarterly, Survival, Foreign Affairs, Foreign Policy, The Washington Post and The Los Angeles Times, among others.  Dassa Kaye is also the author of Beyond the Handshake: Multilateral Cooperation in the Arab-Israeli Peace Process (Columbia University Press) and Talking to the Enemy: Track Two Regional Security Dialogues in the Middle East and South Asia (RAND), as well as co-author of a number of other RAND monographs.

“One of the things I try to do in my research, and now in my class here, is to delve down into the complexities and understand the differing threat perceptions among regional players. Iran is not a monolithic actor, it’s very complex and relationships in the region are very complex. U.S. policies toward Iran are also very complicated and we must move away from black and white paradigms.”

Some of the many topics she has studied in recent years include political reform in the the Arab world and how regional artists can freely produce and share their work.

“Sometimes they’re stuck in the middle and it’s difficult to work freely. When you have basically closed societies, as many Arab countries have been until this recent set of uprisings, free artistic expression is very difficult. U.S. regional policies often underestimate how important artistic freedom and production can be to fostering and consolidating democratic reforms.”

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