Robert C. McFarlane, Reagan’s best aide in the Iran-Contra affair, died at 84

Robert C. McFarlane, a decorated former naval officer who grew up in civilian life to be President Ronald Reagan’s national security adviser and then fell out of favor in the Iran-contra scandal, died Thursday in Lansing, Michigan. hey what 84

Mr. McFarlane, who lived in Washington, was visiting his family in Michigan at the time. A family friend, Bill Greener, said the death resulted from a previous unspecified lung condition.

Mr. McFarlane pleaded guilty in 1988 to a charge of withholding information from Congress in its investigation into the affair, in which the Reagan administration has secretly sold weapons to Iran since 1985 in exchange for the freedom of Western hostages in Lebanon. Profits from arms sales were then secretly channeled to contra rebels in Nicaragua, who were seeking to overthrow the country’s Marxist regime, known as the Sandinistas.

Both parts of the scheme were illegal; Congress had imposed an arms embargo on Iran and banned American aid to the contras.

Mr. McFarlane, Bud to his friends and collaborators, was one of the many actors in the operation, which was expelled from the White House with the collaboration of the Central Intelligence Agency. But he stood out following her full and unequivocal acceptance of the blame for his actions. Everyone else involved had defended the operation as fair and wise or had tried to deny responsibility.

The incident tainted the Reagan administration and raised doubts about how aware the president was of what was happening at his White House.

And its repercussions left Mr. McFarlane so guilty that he attempted suicide at his home in February 1987. While his wife, Jonda, a high school English teacher, was upstairs evaluating papers. , took an overdose of Valium and slept with him. here. When he couldn’t be woken up in the morning, he was taken to the hospital and resuscitated. He subsequently underwent several weeks of psychiatric therapy at Bethesda Naval Hospital.

It was an extraordinary act in official Washington. Many considered it a scream of pain not hidden by someone they least expected it from: one of the most autonomous public and powerful men in the capital.

By killing himself, Mr. McFarlane at the time believed in what an “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 have so let the country down,” he said.

He had previously tried to explain his actions by citing the ancient Japanese tradition of honorable suicide. But he realized, he said in the interview, that those ways had no resonance in modern American culture and that most people couldn’t understand such behavior.

Mr. McFarlane has always claimed – and was supported by evidence – that he was primarily involved in the Iranian side of the scandal and that he was unaware of the more blatantly illegal part, sending profits from arms sales to Nicaragua vs.

Mr. McFarlane had been a fervent supporter of repairing relations with Iran, so much so that after leaving the White House he made a secret visit there in 1987, traveling undercover, at the request of President Reagan. There he met various officials but found that the meetings were a waste of time, he said.

The results of the arms sales themselves were slightly better: some hostages were sporadically released by Iran’s allies in Lebanon – less than promised – and, in any case, new hostages were subsequently kidnapped.

The scheme began to unravel on October 18, 5, 1986, when a plane supplying weapons to the contras was shot down in Nicaragua, exposing the mission and provoking an investigation by a joint congressional committee and televised hearings. Summoned to testify, Mr. McFarlane and his former deputy, the lieutenant. Colonel Oliver L. North – White House figures little known to the public until then – emerged in the light of national publicity as a key player in the affair.

Colonel North, still an active duty officer at the time, was an enthusiastic player of the plan. He stood before a joint Congressional investigative committee in full uniform (he favored work clothes in the White House), sometimes expressing defiance, other times insisting that he was motivated by patriotism.

Colonel North’s testimony made him a national hero for many conservatives, and he later leveraged that support to host a talk show, write books, and run, albeit unsuccessfully, for the United States Senate from Virginia as a Republican candidate. (He later served as president of the National Rifle Association for less than a year.)

Mr. McFarlane, on the other hand, hasn’t garnered such public flattery, nor much support. Job offers were withdrawn, he wrote to him, and he was asked to resign by a works council.

In his memoirs, he recalled that he initially liked Colonel North, his naval mate, and thought they had a lot in common. That changed after he found out, he said, that Colonel North had deceived him about many of his activities.

He wrote that in misjudging Colonel North “he did not see what was really there, the manipulative ability, the easy betrayal, the arrogance and the ferocious ambition for personal progress.” You campaigned against him in the Virginia election.

Mr. McFarlane, however, got the approval of some of those who had investigated the Iran-contra affair.

A member of the committee of inquiry, Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan, a Democrat from New York, praised his testimony, saying that “there was no” cute, “no escapism.” I’m here, I’ll tell you everything I know. “”

The independent prosecutor, Lawrence E Walshwho was frustrated by the stiff resistance of others who had been involved in the operation, acknowledged that he was so moved by Mr. McFarlane’s outspokenness and contrition that he chose to charge him with only four minor offenses.

Mr. McFarlane served a 200-hour community service sentence, in part by helping establish an independent living program for the disabled in suburban Washington and establishing a computer program that lists after-school recreation programs for young people in Washington. 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 unresolved issue at the heart of the Iran-contr issue was the extent of President Reagan’s knowledge and support. The incident was an important area of ​​study for scholars pondering whether Reagan – who had been recognized as having Alzheimer’s after his retirement – had begun to lose his mental acuity in the White House. Mr McFarlane, in his interviews and memoirs, described the President as sometimes confused or vague about the details of what was happening with Iran and the contras. But he described Mr. Reagan as mostly in control.

Robert Carl McFarlane was born in Washington on July 12, 1937, the son of a Democratic Congressman, William McFarlane, of the Texas Panhandle and grandson of a Texas Ranger. Despite those roots, he must have had little Texas inside him, growing up in the Washington area.

He graduated in his class in 1959 from the Annapolis Naval Academy; he married his high school girlfriend, Jonda Riley; and joined the Marines. As a captain, he led one of the first combat operations in Vietnam. He described the operation as almost farcical.

His commanding general, he recalled in an interview, insisted on bringing his troops ashore in a difficult landing by water, although it would have been easier to reach their destination simply by docking at a nearby dock. A land landing was more suited to the Marines, the general told him. Mr. McFarlane said his heart sank as he watched his command jeep crash to the bottom of a hidden lagoon.

In the 2016 interview with The Times, Mr. McFarlane complained that while he was the National Security Advisor, he did not insist on the basic lesson he thought he learned in Vietnam: that the United States shouldn’t be doing the war without clear and strong support at home. He said the Reagan administration was wrong in trying to help the contras because there was little public support, as evidenced by the Congressional ban on aid to them.

Mr. McFarlane was a surprise choice to succeed William P. Clark Jr. in October 1983 as Second National Security Advisor to Reagan, the person in the White House responsible for coordinating policy between the State and Defense Departments. and other government agencies. He was generally regarded as a staff person, in striking contrast to some of his better-known predecessors, who brimmed with abundant self-confidence and published academic works, such as Henry A. Kissinger and Zbigniew Brzezinski.

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

According to contemporary accounts, he played important roles in complicated and significant arms control negotiations with the Soviet Union and, in particular, promoting and leading President Reagan’s anti-missile defense program known as the Star Wars. The system was never put in place, but it was said to have forced Moscow to massively accelerate military spending at the expense of the Soviet Union, hastening its collapse.

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

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

Jordan Allen contributed to the report.