No one has ever explicitly told me this is part of my job, but I have always thought that one of the more useful things think tanks can do is to mine the world of the social sciences (and academia more broadly) in search of those theories and ideas that -- if proven true -- can and should have a big impact on U.S. policies. On my way to Abu Dhabi, I was reading Greg Gause's The International Relations of the Persian Gulf, and the author makes a pretty bold claim:
[Oil] was not the primary driver of any of the Gulf Wars ... [Regional] states acted more against perceived threats to their own domestic stability emanating from abroad than to counter unfavorable changes in the distribution of power or to take advantage of favorable power imbalances. They chose their allies not on classic balance of power considerations, balancing against the strongest regional state, but on how their own domestic regime security would be affected by the outcome of regional conflicts.
This is, to me, a classic example of a theory that, if proven true, should have major policy implications -- especially as we deal with an empowered Iran -- that you shouldn't need me to explain. I am still reading the book, but so far, Gause has made a compelling case.