Robert McFarlane

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Bud McFarlane
Robert McFarlane, Deputy Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs ME278-2 (cropped).jpg
12th United States National Security Advisor
In office
October 17, 1983 – December 4, 1985
PresidentRonald Reagan
Preceded byWilliam P. Clark Jr.
Succeeded byJohn Poindexter
12th United States Deputy National Security Advisor
In office
April 4, 1982 – October 17, 1983
PresidentRonald Reagan
Preceded byJames Nance
Succeeded byJohn Poindexter
Counselor of the Department of State
In office
February 28, 1981 – April 4, 1982
PresidentRonald Reagan
Preceded byRozanne L. Ridgway
Succeeded byJames L. Buckley
Personal details
Robert Carl McFarlane

(1937-07-12)July 12, 1937
Washington, D.C., U.S.
DiedMay 12, 2022(2022-05-12) (aged 84)
Lansing, Michigan, U.S.
Political partyRepublican
SpouseJonda Riley[1]
Military service
Branch/serviceUnited States Marine Corps
Years of service1959–1979
RankUS-O5 insignia.svg Lieutenant colonel
Battles/warsVietnam War

Robert Carl "Bud" McFarlane (July 12, 1937 – May 12, 2022) was an American Marine Corps officer who served as National Security Advisor to President Ronald Reagan from 1983 to 1985. Within the Reagan administration, McFarlane was a leading architect of the Strategic Defense Initiative, a project intended to defend the US from Soviet ballistic missile attacks.[2] He resigned as National Security Adviser in late 1985 because of disagreements with other administration figures but remained involved in negotiations with Iran and with Hezbollah.

McFarlane was a central figure in the Iran–Contra affair, an operation in which the Reagan administration funneled weapons to Iran and diverted the profits to illegally fund right-wing rebels in Nicaragua. When the scheme came to light, administration officials implemented a plan to insulate Reagan and senior officials by focusing blame on McFarlane.[3] He ultimately pleaded guilty to four misdemeanor counts and admitted that he had hidden information about the Reagan administration's support of the Contras from Congress. Suffering from guilt over his role in the scheme and feeling betrayed by Reagan, who, McFarlane later wrote, "approved every single action I ever took" but "lacked the moral conviction and intellectual courage to stand up in our defense and in defense of his policy." McFarlane attempted suicide in 1987.[3][1] He was later pardoned, along with several other figures in the Iran-Contra scandal, by President George H. W. Bush shortly before he left office.

After his pardon, McFarlane operated a consulting business. He was investigated by the FBI in 2009 over concerns that he was illegally lobbying on behalf of the Sudanese government of Omar al-Bashir but was not charged with any crime.[4] McFarlane died in Lansing, Michigan on May 12, 2022 from a lung condition.[1]

Early life and education[edit]

McFarlane was the son of Texas Democratic Congressman William McFarlane. After graduating high school, McFarlane entered the United States Naval Academy at Annapolis in 1955, where he graduated in 1959. He was the third member of his family to attend the Academy, after his uncle Robert McFarlane (1925) and his brother Bill (1949). At the academy he graduated in the top 15 percent of the class and lettered twice in gymnastics. He received an honorary doctorate from the Institute of World Politics in Washington, D.C., in 2014. He sang in the Chapel Choir, and was a Brigade Administrative Officer and 14th Company Commander. He married his high school sweetheart, Jonda Riley.[1]

Marine Corps service[edit]

Following graduation from the Naval Academy in 1959, McFarlane was commissioned a second lieutenant in the Marine Corps, where he served as a field artillery officer.

As a Marine Corps officer, McFarlane commanded platoons, a battery of field artillery howitzers and was the Operations Officer for an artillery regiment. He taught Gunnery at the Army Advanced Artillery Course. He was the executive assistant to the Marine Corps' Operations Deputy from 1968–1971, preparing the deputy for meetings with the Joint Chiefs of Staff. During this assignment he was also the Action Officer in the Marine Corps Operations Division for Europe/NATO, the Middle East, and Latin America.

McFarlane served two combat tours in the Vietnam War. In March 1965, he commanded an artillery battery in the first landing of U.S. combat forces in Vietnam. While deployed during his first tour, McFarlane was selected for graduate studies as an Olmsted Scholar. McFarlane received a master's degree (License) in strategic studies with highest honors from the Graduate Institute of International Studies (Institut de Hautes Etudes Internationales, HEI) in Geneva, Switzerland.

After attending the Graduate Institute of International Studies, McFarlane returned to Vietnam for a second tour in 1967–1968 as a Regimental Fire Support Coordinator for the 3rd Marine Division deployed along the Vietnamese Demilitarized Zone during the Tet Offensive. He organized all fire support (B-52s, naval gunfire from the USS New Jersey (BB-62), and artillery) for forces deployed at Con Thien, Cam Lo, Dong Ha, The Rockpile, Khe Sanh, and points between. McFarlane received a Bronze Star and a Navy Commendation Medal, both with Valor device.

Following his second tour in Vietnam and a tour at Headquarters Marine Corps, in 1971 he was named a White House Fellow. He was the first Marine Corps officer selected for the program.

McFarlane was assigned to the White House Office of Legislative Affairs and at the conclusion of that assignment was selected as the Military Assistant to Henry Kissinger at the National Security Council. In this post, McFarlane dealt with intelligence exchanges with the People's Republic of China from 1973 to 1976, giving detailed intelligence briefings to the PRC at the time of the Sino-Soviet split. He also accompanied Kissinger on his visits to the PRC. In addition, McFarlane dealt with other aspects of foreign policy, including the Middle East, relations with the Soviet Union, and arms control. McFarlane was appointed by President Gerald Ford as his Special Assistant for National Security Affairs while a Lieutenant Colonel and was awarded the Navy Distinguished Service Medal in 1976.

Upon leaving the White House, McFarlane was assigned to the National Defense University, where he co-authored a book on crisis management while concurrently receiving a diploma from the National War College.

He ended his Marine Corps career on Okinawa as Operations Officer for the 12th Marine Regiment. McFarlane retired in 1979 as a lieutenant colonel.

Civilian posts[edit]

In 1979, McFarlane was appointed by U.S. Senator John Tower to the staff of the Senate Armed Services Committee, where he was responsible for staffing Senate consideration of the SALT II Treaty from 1979 to 1981. He also authored much of Ronald Reagan's foreign policy platform during the 1980 presidential campaign.

In 1981, President Reagan appointed and the Senate confirmed McFarlane as Counselor at the Department of State.[5] In this post he assisted Secretary of State Alexander Haig.

In 1982, Reagan appointed McFarlane as Deputy National Security Advisor responsible for the integration of the policy recommendations of the Departments of State, Treasury, and Defense. In 1983, he was appointed by the president as his Special Representative in the Middle East responsible for Israeli-Arab negotiations.[6]

McFarlane was criticized for having involved the United States armed forces in the Lebanon Civil War with gunship bombardment of Lebanese opposition forces which may have led to the 1983 Beirut barracks bombing where 241 American servicemen were killed.[7]

Following that assignment, he returned to the White House and was appointed President Reagan's National Security Advisor.[8] In that post, he was responsible for the development of U.S foreign and defense policy. He was a supporter of the Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI or "Star Wars").

Iran-Contra affair and resignation[edit]

McFarlane in 1987

The Iran-Contra affair involved secretly selling arms to Iran and funneling the money to support the Contras in Nicaragua. As National Security Adviser, McFarlane urged Reagan to negotiate the arms deal with Iranian intermediaries, but McFarlane said that by late December 1985 he was urging Reagan to end the arms shipments.[9] McFarlane resigned on December 4, 1985,[10][11] citing that he wanted to spend more time with his family;[12] he was replaced by Admiral John Poindexter.[13]

The Iran-Contra affair came to light in November 1986 and a political scandal ensued. Disheartened, feeling abused by his former colleagues, and in depression over the embarrassment for the president that his actions had contributed to, McFarlane attempted suicide with an overdose of 25 to 30 valium tablets and was admitted into the hospital just two hours before his scheduled testimony before the Blue Ribbon panel appointed by President Reagan to investigate Iran-Contra known as the Tower Commission[14] on February 9, 1987, saying he had failed his country.[15]

In 1988, he pleaded guilty to four misdemeanor counts of withholding information from Congress as part of the Iran-Contra cover-up.[16] He was sentenced to two years' probation and a $20,000 fine but was pardoned by President George H. W. Bush on Christmas Eve 1992.

Other activities[edit]

McFarlane in 1994

McFarlane co-founded and served as CEO of McFarlane Associates Inc., an international consulting company.

McFarlane in 2011

He was also a Co-founder and Director[17] of IP3 International (short for "International Peace Power & Prosperity"[18]), a consortium of firms wanting to build nuclear reactors in Saudi Arabia that is led by retired U.S. military commanders and former White House officials.[19][20] Michael Flynn has described himself as an adviser to IP3, which the company denies.[21] In May 2019, McFarlane wrote an op-ed in The Washington Times advocating for developing nuclear power generation in the Middle East titled "The New Imperialism".[22] This proposal, dubbed "Middle East Marshall Plan" by its backers,[18] was detailed in a March 2017 White Paper written by Tom Barrack,[23] the chairman of Donald Trump's Presidential Inaugural Committee, a senior adviser to Trump's presidential campaign, and a long-time close friend of and fundraiser for Donald Trump. In 2021, McFarlane co-wrote with David Gattie a piece for The National Interest, titled, "China and the Importance of Civil Nuclear Energy," which extended his ideas on nuclear energy to the geopolitical outlook for China.[24]

McFarlane was a member of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy (WINEP) Board of Advisors, was president of the Institute for the Analysis of Global Security, was on the Board of Advisors, and was a founding member of the Set America Free Coalition. He was also an Advisory Board member for the Partnership for a Secure America, a not-for-profit organization dedicated to recreating the bipartisan center in American national security and foreign policy.

McFarlane served on a number of boards including:

He was an advisor to John McCain's 2008 presidential campaign. From 2009 on, McFarlane worked in the southern region of Sudan and Darfur on intertribal relations and development projects. On September 30, 2009, the Washington Post published a story suggesting that McFarlane's contract for this work, which was supported by the government of Qatar, was the result of a request by Sudanese officials. McFarlane denied any improper contact with Sudanese officials or efforts to avoid disclosure of his work. The Washington Post article reported that some persons involved in peacemaking efforts in the southern Sudan region questioned the source and helpfulness of McFarlane's activities.[26] That article prompted FBI investigators to review McFarlane's activities in the Sudan. After an exhaustive probe that lasted three years and included search of his trash, email, and personal belongings, investigators concluded their search and did not file any criminal charges.[27]

In July 2011, McFarlane, in cooperation with former CIA director Jim Woolsey, co-founded the United States Energy Security Council,[28] sponsored by the Institute for the Analysis of Global Security.


McFarlane died on May 12, 2022, at a hospital in Lansing, Michigan, from complications of a lung condition at the age of 84. He lived in Washington, D.C., but was visiting family in Michigan at the time of his death.[3] On July 27, 2022, the Congressional Record published, "Remembering the Honorable Robert C. "Bud" McFarlane," commemorating the respect he commanded around the world for his diverse leadership roles.[29]

Awards and decorations[edit]

Navy Distinguished Service Medal
Bronze Star with Valor device
Meritorious Service Medal
Navy Commendation Medal with Valor device
Army Commendation Medal
Combat Action Ribbon
Secretary of State Distinguished Service Award
Secretary of the Navy Medal for Distinguished Public Service
US - Presidential Service Badge.png Presidential Service Badge
Alfred Thayer Mahan Award for Literary Achievement (1979)
American-Swiss Friendship "Man of the Year" Award (1985)

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d Lewis, Neil (May 13, 2022). "Robert C. McFarlane, Top Reagan Aide in Iran-Contra Affair, Dies at 84". New York Times.
  2. ^ Smith, R. "McFarlane Calls SDI Pitch Misleading", Washington Post (1988-09-15): "Robert C. McFarlane, a key architect of President Reagan's 'Star Wars' plan to develop sophisticated defenses against Soviet ballistic missiles, said he has concluded 'There is no current basis for confidence that a survivable defensive shield is within reach' and that Reagan's announcement of it was misleading and simplistic."
  3. ^ a b c Schechter, Jerrold (May 13, 2022). "Robert 'Bud' McFarlane, Reagan national security adviser, dies at 84". Washington Post.
  4. ^ Zapotosky, Matt (November 27, 2013). "Probe of former national security adviser's relationship with Sudan ends without charges". Washington Post.
  5. ^ The White House (January 29, 1981). "Nomination of Robert C. McFarlane To Be' Counselor of the Department of State" (Press Release). The American Presidency Project. Retrieved March 23, 2009.
  6. ^ The White House (July 22, 1983). "Appointment of Robert C. McFarlane as the President's Personal Representative in the Middle East" (Press Release). The American Presidency Project. Retrieved March 23, 2009.
  7. ^ Rosen, Nir (October 29, 2009). "Lesson Unlearned". Foreign Policy. Retrieved December 24, 2009.
  8. ^ The White House (October 17, 1983). "Appointment of Robert C. McFarlane as Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs" (Press Release). The American Presidency Project. Retrieved March 23, 2009.
  9. ^ Shenon, Philip. "Ex-Official Says Bush Urged End to Iran Arms Shipments", New York Times (1989-01-23): "Robert C. McFarlane, the former adviser, said in a telephone interview that although Vice President Bush rarely expressed an opinion at such meetings, he supported Mr. McFarlane in urging that the shipments be stopped....At the December 1985 meeting, Mr. McFarlane recalled, he advised Mr. Reagan to end the arms operation....Mr. Bush, he said, made a similar brief statement at a White House meeting after Mr. McFarlane went to Teheran in May 1986."
  10. ^ "Letter Accepting the Resignation of Robert C. McFarlane as Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs". Archived from the original on March 20, 2014. Retrieved December 4, 2012.
  11. ^ "United States v. Robert C. McFarlane". Independent Counsel for Iran/Contra Matters. 1993. Retrieved June 7, 2008.
  12. ^ *Reagan, Ronald (1990). An American Life. New York: Simon & Schuster. p. 509.
  13. ^ "Understanding the Iran-Contra Affairs - The Legal Aftermath".
  14. ^ "McFarlane Takes Drug Overdose; Iran Probe Figure Hospitalized Shortly Before Testimony Due - The Washington Post | HighBeam Research". October 8, 2016. Archived from the original on October 8, 2016.
  15. ^ Okie, Susan & Spolar, Chris (February 10, 1987). "McFarlane Takes Drug Overdose; Iran Probe Figure Hospitalized Shortly Before Testimony Due". The Washington Post.
  16. ^ Pichirallo, Joe (March 12, 1988). "McFarlane Enters Guilty Plea Arising From Iran-Contra Affair; Former Reagan Adviser Withheld Information From Congress". The Washington Post.
  17. ^ "OUR TEAM - IP3 Int'l". July 31, 2019. Archived from the original on July 31, 2019. Retrieved July 31, 2019.
  18. ^ a b "Whistleblowers: Flynn backed plan to transfer nuclear tech to Saudis". NBC News. Retrieved July 31, 2019.
  19. ^ "Trump billionaire friend aimed to profit from Mideast nuclear deal..." Reuters. July 29, 2019. Retrieved July 31, 2019.
  20. ^ "Report Accuses Trump Allies of Conspiring to Profit Off Saudi Nuclear Deal". Vanity Fair. July 30, 2019. Retrieved July 31, 2019.
  21. ^ "Statement on Nuclear Energy from IP3 International | Business Wire". February 20, 2019. Archived from the original on February 20, 2019. Retrieved July 31, 2019.
  22. ^ "The New Imperialism". The Washington Times. Retrieved May 21, 2022.
  23. ^ "Whistleblowers Raise Grave Concerns with Trump Administration's Efforts to Transfer Sensitive Nuclear Technology to Saudi Arabia Prepared for Chairman Elijah E. Cummings Interim Staff Report Committee on Oversight and Reform U.S. House of Representatives Appendix A" (PDF).
  24. ^ Robert McFarlane, David Gattie (October 15, 2021). "China and the Importance of Civil Nuclear Energy". The National Interest. Retrieved July 3, 2022.
  25. ^ "About Us | Alphabet Energy". Archived from the original on July 27, 2014. Retrieved July 26, 2014.
  26. ^ Eggen, Dan (September 30, 2009). "Former Reagan Aide Robert McFarlane's Dealings With Sudan Raise Questions". The Washington Post.
  27. ^ Zapotosky, Matt (November 27, 2013). "Probe of former national security adviser's relationship with Sudan ends without charges". The Washington Post.
  28. ^ "United States Energy Security Council - Home".
  29. ^ "REMEMBERING THE HONORABLE ROBERT C. ``BUD McFARLANE;". Congressional Record. 168 (125). July 27, 2022.

General and cited references[edit]

  • "Complaint That Donald Regan May Be Placing Blame for the Iran Initiative on Robert McFarlane," Secret PROFS email (November 7, 1986). Original source: US National Security Council.
  • Kornbluh, Peter and Malcolm Byrne, eds. The Iran-Contra Affair: The Making of a Scandal, 1983–1988 (Document collection). Alexandria, VA: Chadwyck-Healey; Washington, D.C.: National Security Archive, 1990.
  • Kornbluh, Peter and Malcolm Byrne, eds. The Iran-Contra Scandal: The Declassified History. New York: New Press, Distributed by W. W. Norton, 1993.
  • Walsh, Lawrence E. Firewall: The Iran-Contra Conspiracy and Cover-up. New York: Norton, 1997.
  • Timberg, Robert, The Nightingale's Song. New York: Free Press, 1996.
  • Daalder, Ivo H.; James M. Lindsay, Robert C. "Bud" McFarlane, Carla Anne Robbins (panelists) (April 18, 2001). "Assessing the Bush Foreign Policy Transition" (PDF). Washington, D.C.: American Enterprise Institute. Archived from the original (PDF) on July 8, 2004. Retrieved August 23, 2006.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
  • McFarlane, Robert C.; Smardz, Zofia (1994). Special Trust: Pride, Principle and Politics Inside the White House. New York: Cadell & Davies.

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]

Political offices
Preceded by Counselor of the Department of State
Succeeded by
Preceded by Deputy National Security Advisor
Succeeded by
Preceded by National Security Advisor