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reed magazine logoSummer 2008

“I started [fundraising] when he was in the depths of his campaign last fall, and everybody had kind of given up on him. Now hes in a very different league in terms of fundraising, so the kind of money I can collect is not as consequential as it once was.” —Lorne Craner ’82

John McCain with the Craners, (clockwise) Lorne, Anne, Isabelle, Charles, and Alexander

The Aide

Lorne Craner ’82

Arriving at Reed as a freshman in 1977, Lorne Craner found himself the only Republican on campus (or at least the only one he knew about)—a position he says was surprisingly congenial. “Reedies were very tolerant of other people’s viewpoints,” he says. “I’ve carried that lesson with me.”

Craner has carried it to the most partisan place of all: Washington, D.C., where he runs the nonprofit International Republican Institute (IRI), which works to cultivate democratic institutions abroad. “The guy who runs NDI [the National Democratic Institute] and I work very closely, and we always joke that we’re the last two Republicans and Democrats in town that actually work really closely together,” he says. While IRI and NDI are officially nonpartisan, each draws its board and staff from the party leadership ranks: IRI is chaired by Senator John McCain, NDI by former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright.

Even as Craner strives for aisle-crossing unity in his day job, though, this mild-mannered political operative with a master’s in international security studies from Georgetown has been swept up into the undeniably partisan race for the U.S. presidency, as a foreign policy adviser and fundraiser for the McCain campaign. Craner’s connection to John McCain goes beyond the political: his father was an Air Force pilot shot down in Vietnam and held in the Hanoi Hilton cell next to McCain’s. For two years, the two men communicated through a wall. “They never actually saw each other until about a year later,” Craner says. “They said, much to their wives’ chagrin, that they got to know each other better than their wives would ever know them.”

Craner worked as a legislative aide to McCain in the 1980s, and says that in addition to their conservative philosophy, the two share an affinity for historical scholarship and a disdain for lockstep ideology. “He’s not doctrinaire,” Craner says. “He’s always looking for solutions to problems.” Before enlisting with the McCain campaign, Craner had never done any political fundraising, and he approached the task with some trepidation. “I started it when he was in the depths of his campaign last fall, and everybody had kind of given up on him,” Craner says. “Now he’s in a very different league in terms of fundraising, so the kind of money I can collect is not as consequential as it once was.” As for the foreign policy advising, Craner says that not much is called for these days beyond doing an occasional talk or debate as the candidate’s surrogate. “Foreign policy is not McCain’s weak suit,” he says.

Craner was first named president of IRI in 1995, but took a hiatus from 2001 to 2004 to work as Undersecretary of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor in Colin Powell’s State Department. Soon after 9/11, he says, he confronted a “big argument” within the Bush administration over whether human rights work had any further role in U.S. Middle East policy. “Some were saying we can just get rid of all this democracy and human rights stuff because we are going to go at it hammer and tongs with Al Qaeda,” he recalls.

For his part, Craner saw that the so-called War on Terror would make for some nasty bedfellows, and he was determined to nudge our new strategic allies in Central Asia toward democracy. It was often an uphill battle—not just with the dictators of countries like Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan, but with other branches of the U.S. government, particularly the Defense Department, which was willing to wink at human rights abuses to ensure access to foreign military bases. Then, of course, came the Iraq war, widely viewed to be the cause of Powell’s 2004 departure from State (Craner left at the same time to return to IRI, and remains close to Powell). Without directly challenging the Bush administration’s decision to go to war, he openly deplores the Rumsfeld Pentagon’s lack of planning for the war’s aftermath. “When I go to Iraq, and [IRI is] engaged in Iraq,” he says, “I’m angered by it and disgusted by it just about every day.”

Though IRI has on occasion been accused of pursuing a covert partisan agenda—most damagingly in a New York Times story alleging that it played a role in Haiti’s 2004 coup, a charge Craner denies—Craner says IRI offers training to groups across the political spectrum. “We work with the Greens in Slovakia and the Communists in Belarus,” he says. And despite his intense frustration with how things have played out in Iraq, Craner is still hopeful for that troubled country’s future. “I always say you have to have a naïve optimism to work in these places,” he says. He points out that 10 years ago, security experts advised him not to bother with Serbia, because “that’s just the way the Slavs are”; before that, they said Latin America was bound by the hacienda system and Asian society was too communal for political debate. “I’m not saying everybody’s the same,” he says. “But I’ve never met people who don’t want more control over their own lives.”

reed magazine logoSummer 2008