Robert C. McFarlane, Top Reagan Aide in Iran-Contra Affair, Dies at 84

WASHINGTON – Robert C. McFarlane, a former Marine officer who lived his civilian life to become President Ronald Reagan’s national security adviser and then fell from grace in the Iran-contra scandal. , passed away Thursday in Lansing, Mich. He is 84 years old.

Mr. McFarlane, who lives in Washington, was visiting family in Michigan at the time. A family friend, Bill Greener, said the death stemmed from a previously unspecified lung condition.

McFarlane pleaded guilty in 1988 to withholding information from Congress during an investigation into the incident in which the Reagan administration surreptitiously sold weapons to Iran beginning in 1985 in exchange for his freedom. Western hostages in Lebanon. The profits from the arms sales were then secretly transferred to opposition rebels in Nicaragua who were trying to overthrow the country’s Marxist regime, known as the Sandinistas.

Both parts of the plan were illegal; Congress has imposed an arms embargo on Iran and banned US aid to the opposition.

Mr. McFarlane, Bud told his friends and associates, was one of many involved in the operation outside the White House in cooperation with the Central Intelligence Agency. But as a result of it, he has distinguished himself by accepting the blame for his actions unequivocally and unequivocally. Others involved either defended fair and prudent practice or sought to disclaim responsibility.

The episode soiled the Reagan administration and raised questions about how much the president was aware of what was going on in his own White House.

And its aftermath left Mr. McFarlane with such guilt that he attempted suicide at his home in February 1987. While his wife, Jonda, a high school English teacher, was taking an exam. Checking up upstairs, he overdosed on Valium and went to bed with him. she. When he was unable to stay awake in the morning, he was taken to the hospital and revived. He then spent several weeks in psychiatric treatment at Bethesda Naval Hospital.

It was a great act in Washington. Many see it as an unconcealable howl of pain from someone they least expected – one of the most closed places of public and powerful men in the capital.

Mr McFarlane believed suicide at the time was “the honorable thing to do”, he said in an interview for this obituary in January 2016 at his home in the Watergate complex in Washington.

“I am very disappointed in the country,” he said.

Before that, he tried to explain his actions by invoking the ancient Japanese tradition of honorably committing suicide. But he did realize, he said in the interview, that those ways don’t resonate in modern American culture and that most people can’t understand such behavior.

Mr. McFarlane has always insisted – and he is backed by evidence – that he was primarily involved in the Iran scandal, and that he knew nothing about the more blatantly illegal part, which is sending profits from arms sales to Nicaraguan contrasts.

Mr. McFarlane had been a staunch advocate of mending relations with Iran – so much so that after leaving the White House, he made a secret visit there in 1987, traveling anonymously, at the request of the President. President Reagan. There, he met with various officials but found these meetings a waste of time, he said.

The results of the arms sales themselves were slightly better: A number of hostages were sporadically released by Iran’s allies in Lebanon – far less than was promised – and in any case. , the new hostages were then taken.

This plan began to unravel on October 5, 1986, when a plane supplying weapons to the opposition was shot down over Nicaragua, exposing the mission and prompting a joint congressional committee to investigate. and televised hearings. Summoned to testify, Mr. McFarlane and his former deputy, Lieutenant Colonel Oliver L. North – White House figures little known to the public until then – emerged in the public spotlight. country as the key players in the case.

Colonel North, still an active-duty officer at the time, was an avid fan of the scheme. He stood before a joint congressional investigative committee dressed in formal attire (he preferred White House business suits), at times defiantly, at other emphasizing that he was motivated by patriotism.

Colonel North’s testimony made him a national hero to many conservatives, and he later channeled that support into hosting a talk show, writing books and running for office, though unsuccessfully, for the United States Senate from Virginia as the Republican candidate. (He was then president of the National Rifle Association for less than a year.)

By contrast, Mr. McFarlane has failed to garner any such public acclaim or even much support. He wrote that the job offers had been withdrawn, and that he had been asked to resign from the company’s board.

In his memoirs, he recounts that at first he liked Colonel North, his marine friend, and thought they had a lot in common. He said that changed after he discovered that Colonel North had lied to him about many of his activities.

He wrote that when he misjudged Colonel North, he “didn’t see what was really there, his skill at manipulation, his easy betrayal, his arrogance, and his fierce ambition for personal advancement.” .” He campaigned against him in the Virginia election.

However, Mr. McFarlane has won approval from some of those who have investigated the Iran-contra case.

A member of the investigative committee, Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan, a Democrat of New York, commended his testimony, saying that none of the evasions were “cute”. “I’m here, I’ll tell you everything I know.”

independent prosecutor, Lawrence E. Walshwho was frustrated by the stiff resistance of others who had participated in the activity, admitted that he was so moved by Mr. McFarlane’s outspokenness that he chose to charge him only with four misdemeanors.

Mr. McFarlane has served 200 hours of community service, in part by helping to establish an independent living program for the disabled in upstate Washington, and by establishing a computer program that lists out After-school placement for youth in the area.

Before leaving office, President George HW Bush pardoned Mr. McFarlane on Christmas Eve 1992, along with others involved in the Iran-contra affair, including Defense Secretary Caspar W. Weinberger.

An unanswered question at the heart of the Iran-opposition is the extent of President Reagan’s understanding and support. The episode has been an important area of ​​study for scholars considering whether Reagan – who after retirement was admitted to suffer from Alzheimer’s disease – began to lose his mind in the White House. Mr. McFarlane, in interviews and in his memoirs, described the president at times confused or vague in detail about what was happening with Iran and the contrasts. But he described Mr. Reagan as mostly the one in control.

Robert Carl McFarlane was born in Washington on July 12, 1937, the son of Democratic congressman, William McFarlane, from the Texas Panhandle and the grandson of a Texas Ranger. Despite those roots, he still has a bit of Texas in him, growing up in the Washington area.

He graduated with honors in 1959 from the Naval Academy in Annapolis; married his high school girlfriend, Jonda Riley; and joined the Marines. As a captain, he commanded one of the first combat operations in Vietnam. He describes the operation as almost absurd.

He recalls in an interview that his commanding general had insisted that he would bring his troops ashore in a difficult water landing, although it would have been easier to dock at a nearby pier once he reached his destination. . The general told him that an amphibious landing was more suitable for the Marines. Mr McFarlane said his heart sank as he watched his commanding jeep plunge to the bottom of a hidden lagoon.

In a 2016 interview with The Times, McFarlane lamented that while serving as national security adviser, he failed to emphasize the fundamental lesson he thought he had learned in Vietnam: that the United States was should not go to war without clear and strong support at Home. He said the Reagan administration was wrong to try to help the dissidents because it received little public support, as evidenced by congressional bans on aid to them.

Mr. McFarlane was an unexpected choice to succeed William P. Clark Jr in October 1983 as Reagan’s second national security adviser, the man in the White House responsible for coordinating policy across the Department. Defense and the Department of Defense and other government agencies. He is often seen as an employee, a notable contrast to some of his more famous predecessors, who were brimming with confidence and published scholarly works, such as Henry A. Kissinger and Zbigniew Brzezinski.

He began his ascent in the national security establishment while still a lieutenant colonel in the Marines, when he won a White House fellowship and worked for Mr. Kissinger and later. Brent Scowcroft when they were national security advisers. He has also held senior staff positions at the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and the State Department.

According to contemporary documents, he played a key role in the complex and important arms control negotiations with the Soviet Union, especially promoting and guiding President Reagan’s anti-missile defense program. called Star Wars. The system was never put into service, but it is believed to have forced Moscow to dramatically accelerate military spending to the detriment of the Soviet Union, hastening its demise.

After leaving government, Mr. McFarlane founded an international business consulting firm specializing in energy issues.

His survivors include his wife; three children, Lauren, Melissa and Scott; two sisters; and eight grandchildren.

Jordan Allen contributed reporting.

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