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Seeing Mideast democracy as more than ‘‘pie in the sky’’

By Peter Slevin

Lorne W. Craner ’82 knows skepticism. He encounters dubious looks so routinely when he describes the Bush administration’s quest to expand civil liberties in the Arab world that he never waits long before confessing the difficulties.

  Lorne W. Craner picture

Yes, he explains in his amiable manner, the U.S. government really is serious about guiding democratic changes in Middle Eastern societies. Yes, he says, the U.S. administration will have to establish its credibility over a period of years, maybe decades.

And no, the administration is not dreaming.

Well, maybe a little.

Democracy in the Middle East is indeed “pie in the sky,” Craner said in a recent interview. “But it was pie in the sky in the 1990s to have functioning democracy in Central Europe. It was pie in the sky to have a rebuilt El Salvador. I’ve worked in too many regions, and heard that it can’t work, to believe that it can’t work in the Middle East.”

Craner, 44, is a principal State Department player on one of the administration’s hottest foreign policy issues. As assistant secretary of state for democracy, human rights, and labor, he contributed to the thinking behind the Middle Eastern democracy initiative that is still in its infancy. He believes in the possibilities, even as he remains aware of the charges of hubris leveled at the administration.

If Bush is reelected, Craner conceded, “it may be long after the second term of the president is over that people believe us. But we need to build for that.”

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