After a career in the Marines, McFarlane became part of the Reagan administration and was a leading architect of the Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI) for defending the United States against missile attack. Subsequently, he was involved in, and pleaded guilty to charges for actions related to, the Iran-Contra affair, but received a pardon from President George H.W. Bush.
Early life and education
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.
Marine Corps service
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 the 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 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.
McFarlane was assigned to the Office of Legislative Affairs at the White House 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 China at the time of the Sino-Soviet split. He also accompanied Kissinger on his visits to China. 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.
In 1979, he 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 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.
McFarlane has been criticized for involving 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.
Following that assignment, he returned to the White House and was appointed President Reagan's National Security Advisor. 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
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 says that by late December 1985 he was urging Reagan to end the arms shipments. McFarlane resigned on December 4, 1985, citing that he wanted to spend more time with his family; he was replaced by Admiral John Poindexter.
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  on February 9, 1987, saying he had failed his country.
In 1988, he pleaded guilty to four misdemeanor counts of withholding information from Congress as part of the Iran-Contra cover-up. 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.
McFarlane co-founded and served as CEO of McFarlane Associates Inc., an international consulting company.
McFarlane is a member of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy (WINEP) Board of Advisors, is president of the Institute for the Analysis of Global Security, is on the Board of Advisors and is a founding member of the Set America Free Coalition. He is 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 serves on a number of boards including:
- Aegis Defence Services – Non-executive director
- Partnership for a Secure America – Advisory Board
- Fuel Freedom Foundation – Advisory Board
- Myriant Incorporated – Advisory Board
- Member of the Committee on the Present Danger
- Alphabet Energy – advisory board
He was an advisor to John McCain's 2008 presidential campaign. Since 2009, McFarlane has been working 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 is 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. 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.
In July 2011, McFarlane, in cooperation with former CIA director Jim Woolsey, co-founded the United States Energy Security Council, sponsored by the Institute for the Analysis of Global Security.
Awards and decorations
|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|
|Presidential Service Badge|
|Alfred Thayer Mahan Award for Literary Achievement (1979)|
|American-Swiss Friendship "Man of the Year" Award (1985)|
- 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."
- 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.
- 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.
- Nir Rosen (October 29, 2009). "Lesson Unlearned". Foreign Policy. Retrieved December 24, 2009.
- 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.
- 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."
- "Letter Accepting the Resignation of Robert C. McFarlane as Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs". Retrieved December 4, 2012.
- "United States v. Robert C. McFarlane". Independent Counsel for Iran/Contra Matters. 1993. Retrieved June 7, 2008.
- *Reagan, Ronald (1990). An American Life. New York: Simon & Schuster. p. 509.
- "Understanding the Iran-Contra Affairs".
- Okie, Susan Okie & Chris Spolar (February 10, 1987). "McFarlane Takes Drug Overdose;Iran Probe Figure Hospitalized Shortly Before Testimony Due". Washington Post.
- Pichirallo, Joe (March 12, 1988). "McFarlane Enters Guilty Plea Arising From Iran-Contra Affair; Former Reagan Adviser Withheld Information From Congress". Washington Post.
- "Archived copy". Archived from the original on July 27, 2014. Retrieved July 26, 2014.CS1 maint: Archived copy as title (link)
- Eggen, Dan (September 30, 2009). "Former Reagan Aide Robert McFarlane's Dealings With Sudan Raise Questions". The Washington Post.
- Zapotosky, Matt (November 27, 2013). "Probe of former national security adviser's relationship with Sudan ends without charges". The Washington Post.
- United States Energy Security Council
- "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.CS1 maint: Multiple names: authors list (link)
- McFarlane, Robert C. / Smardz, Zofia: Special Trust. Pride, Principle and Politics Inside the White House. Cadell & Davies, New York, NY, 1994
- Timberg, Robert (1996). The Nightingale's Song. Simon and Schuster. ISBN 0-684-82673-9. Tells the stories of John McCain, James Webb, Oliver North, Robert McFarlane, and John Poindexter; the impact of the Vietnam War.
- Johnson, Haynes Bonner (2003). Sleepwalking Through History: America in the Reagan Years. W. W. Norton & Company. ISBN 0-393-32434-6. Discussion of Iran-Contra and McFarlane's role in the Reagan administration.
- Official Web Site of the Partnership for a Secure America
- Official Web Site of the Committee on the Present Danger
- Institute of World Politics
- Appearances on C-SPAN
Rozanne L. Ridgway
| Counselor of the Department of State
James L. Buckley
| Deputy National Security Advisor
| National Security Advisor|