Washington is in full gear for an intense 60-day debate over the Iran nuclear deal, and one important feature of the discussion is the contributions made by diverse civil society organizations. It’s one of those moments where information and analysis are in high demand, highlighting the interplay between government and nongovernment actors. Think tanks in particular are playing a prominent role in educating the public and engaging with journalists and congressional offices, whether to amplify, endorse or critique the Obama administration’s position.
The decade of on-again, off-again negotiations with Iran in some ways serves as a good illustration of the niche that think tanks occupy in the policy ecosystem. Throughout that time, think tanks, often in collaboration with university-based experts, organized teams to track the talks and dig deep on various issues, based on their established areas of expertise. They have convened seminars, task forces and conferences to pool knowledge, compare notes and develop individual or institutional positions on the agreement’s merits or shortcomings. A lot of cross-learning has taken place, and ad hoc coalitions of like-minded experts and former officials have expressed their positions in letters to the president, Congress and various constituencies.
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