Lorne W. Craner: A Lifelong Commitment to Democracy Promotion

By Daniel Runde

Lorne W. Craner passed away on July 2, 2020 after a lifelong career dedicated to public service. He was a man of integrity who adhered to the fundamental American principles of individual freedom and equal opportunity. For decades, Lorne toiled in the vineyards of democracy, human rights, and good governance, helping to design and implement meaningful policies that promoted democracy and prosperity on nearly every continent.

Lorne was first exposed to public service at an early age, and he understood better than anyone the value of liberty. His father, Col. Robert Roger Craner, who served in the Air Force, was held as a prisoner of war in the infamous Hanoi Hilton, the same Hỏa Lò prison where Senator John McCain was held for five years. Lorne’s father and Senator McCain forged an intimate bond—they were held in adjacent cells and communicated by tapping on the walls. Col. Craner passed away in 1980 but instilled in his son an unwavering commitment to defending and establishing democracy and freedom throughout the world.

Lorne attended Reed College and received a Masters’ degree in National Security Studies from Georgetown University. He began his public service career on Capitol Hill, where he worked for Congressman Jim Kolbe and Senator McCain. In 1989, he became a deputy assistant secretary of state for legislative affairs, and later served in the National Security Council as director of Asian Affairs for President George H.W. Bush. Between 1993 and 2000, he was vice president, and then president, of the International Republican Institute (IRI), created in 1983 as a response to a call by President Reagan to institutionalize democracy throughout the world.

Lorne, a conservative internationalist, believed in an interconnected world—one in which the United States should lead with its values. He believed that, by instilling respect for human rights and strong democratic institutions abroad, the United States could improve the lives of millions of people. Under his leadership, IRI emerged as a vital institution for establishing good governance, strengthening political parties, monitoring elections, promoting prosperity, and helping governments and civil society around the world “deliver on democracy”. In the 1990s, for example, IRI was instrumental in efforts to establish democracy in Romania. This work enabled the country to host free elections in 1996, ending decades of authoritarianism. During Lorne’s tenure, IRI also monitored the groundbreaking 2000 general elections in Mexico and provided vital support to Indonesian civil society organizations after the fall of the dictatorial Suharto government.

Between 2001 and 2004, Lorne left IRI to serve as Assistant Secretary for Democracy, Human Rights and Labor (DRL), during the peak of the Bush Administration’s Freedom Agenda. DRL made unprecedented advances under Lorne’s stewardship by working to defend, promote, and improve democracy in a vastly diverse set of contexts, ranging from Iraq to Colombia to Belarus to Kenya. Upon his departure from the State Department, he was awarded the Distinguished Service Award, the Department’s highest honor.

He returned to IRI and served as president until 2013, once again leading IRI to new levels of achievement and broadening the organization’s scope to include topics such as the inclusion of women in political processes and the role of digital technology in promoting democracy. In the wake of the Arab Spring, Lorne oversaw IRI’s efforts to foster a robust civil society and establish an accountable political process in Tunisia, paving the way for free elections in 2014. He also strengthened IRI’s efforts in China and Pakistan and cultivated relationships with key democracy-building organizations in the United States and abroad. After retiring from IRI, Lorne served as President of the American Councils for International Education and maintained his positions on the boards of IREX, Internews, the Institute for War and Peace Reporting. the National Committee on U.S.-China Relations, and the Millennium Challenge Corporation where he helped to develop the “good governance” criteria—aid is more effective in countries where there is good governance, personal and economic freedom, and investment in people.

Those who work in the field understand that democracy has been in decline for the past two decades. Freely elected leaders are increasingly encroaching upon the rights of political dissidents and breaking down institutional safeguards. In closed societies, authoritarian leaders are using digital technology to spread disinformation and intimidate political opponents. These trends should not be overlooked. Yet, it is wise to recall that over the last 50 years we have seen remarkable progress in democratic governance, political rights, and accountability. Indeed, the arc of history is bent towards human rights and democracy. This is due, in large part, to people like Lorne Craner, who understood that establishing and safeguarding vibrant democracies would require decades of meticulous work and an unflinching commitment to liberty for all. The world is a freer, safer, and more humane place because of Lorne’s efforts. Ronald Reagan said, “We’ve been blessed with the opportunity to stand for something – for liberty and freedom and fairness. And these are things worth fighting for, worth devoting our lives to.” Lorne Craner lived those words.

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