Robert McFarlane

Robert Carl "Bud" McFarlane (born July 12, 1937), was National Security Advisor to President Ronald Reagan from 1983 to late 1985 and was one of the major players in the Iran-Contra Affair. He and his successor, Admiral John Poindexter, were heavily involved in both the Iran and Nicaragua sides of the scandal. Mr. McFarlane from time to time appears on national television and publish articles in newspapers and trade magazines providing his views and insights in the national security of the United States, along with serving on the Boards of Directors of several corporations and non-profit organizations.


After graduating high school, McFarlane entered the United States Naval Academy at Annapolis in 1955, where he graduated in 1959. Bud was the third member of his family to attend the Academy. These included his Uncle, Robert McFarlane (’25) and his brother. Bill (’49). At the Academy Bud excelled in academics, athletics, and military aptitude; graduating in the top 15% of the class, lettering twice in gymnastics and attaining leadership positions first as Brigade Administrative Officer (four-striper) and later as 14th Company Commander. He also sang in the Chapel Choir.

Mr. McFarlane went on to earn a Masters Degree in Strateic Studies from the Institut de Hautes Etudes Internationales in Geneva, Switzerland.

Military and Civilian Government Service

Following graduation from the United States Naval Academy in 1959, Mr. McFarlane was commissioned in the U.S. Marine Corps where he served honorably as an Artillery Officer before retiring in 1979, as a Lt. Colonel. As a Marine Corps Officer, he commanded Platoons, a Battery of Field Artillery Howitzers, and was the Operations Officer for an Artillery Regiment. He was selected to teach Gunnery at the Army Advanced Artillery Course, and later (’68-‘71) was the Executive Assistant to the Marine Corps' Operations Deputy where he was involved on a continuous basis with preparing the Deputy for representing the Marine Corps in 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. He served two tours in Vietnam in combat action against the enemy. In March 1965, he commanded the artillery battery in the first landing of US combat forces in Vietnam. After a break for graduate studies as an Olmsted Scholar he returned for a second tour in 1967-1968 as a Regimental Fire Support Coordinator for the Third Marine Division deployed along the DMZ during the Tet Offensive. He organized all fire support -- B-52s, Naval Gunfire (BB-62 New Jersey), and artillery for forces deployed at Con Thien, Cam Lo, Dong Ha, the Rockpile, Khe Sanh and points between. For his courage and exemplary professionalism during his service in combat, he was awarded the Bronze Star and Navy Commendation Medal, both with Combat “V.” In the course of his career he also received eight personal and unit decorations. While deployed during his first tour, Mr. McFarlane was selected for graduate studies as an Olmsted Scholar. He attended the Institut de Hautes Etudes Internationales in Geneva, Switzerland. His courses were taught in French. He graduated with Highest Honors and received a Masters Degree (License) with a specialty in Strategic Studies. Following his second tour in Vietnam and a tour at Headquarters, Marine Corps, in 1971 he was named a White House Fellow (the first Marine Corps Officer so selected) and assigned to the Office of Legislative Affairs in the White House. At the conclusion of that assignment, in recognition of his depth in strategic studies and international affairs, he was selected as the Military Assistant to Henry Kissinger at the National Security Council. During this assignment, he was personally responsible for extremely sensitive intelligence exchanges with China from 1973 through 1976. He accompanied Dr. Kissinger on his visits to China and delivered detailed intelligence briefings to China that was perhaps the key substantive ingredient of our "China Card" vis-a-vis the Soviet Union. Concurrently, he was involved in virtually every aspect of U.S. policy -- in the Middle East, US-Soviet Relations, Arms Control, etc. During this time he was appointed by President Ford as his Special Assistant for National Security Affairs while only a Lieutenant Colonel.

At the conclusion of almost 5 years of exemplary service to the President of the United States in 1976 Mr. McFarlane was awarded the Nation’s highest peacetime military decoration, the Distinguished Service Medal. Upon leaving the White House Mr. 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 concluded his distinguished Marine Corps career in Okinawa as Operations Officer for the 12th Marine Regiment. Although selected and promoted before his contemporaries for the grade of Lieutenant Colonel with a promising military career ahead, he elected to retire in 1979 and began a distinguished career of civilian public service. In 1979 he was appointed by 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. Concurrently he authored a substantial portion of then-candidate Ronald Reagan’s foreign policy platform. In 1981 he was appointed by President Reagan and confirmed by the U.S. Senate as Counselor to the Department of State. In that role he was responsible for sensitive exchanges between the Secretary of State (Alexander Haig) and Heads of State and Government throughout the Middle East and South Asia. In 1982 President Reagan appointed Mr. McFarlane as his Deputy National Security Advisor where he was 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 where he was responsible for sensitive negotiations between Israel and the Arab States. Following that assignment he returned to the White House and was appointed President Reagan’s National Security Advisor. In that cabinet-level assignment he was responsible for the development of U.S. foreign and our defense policy. Perhaps the contribution to our – and indeed global -- security for which he is best remembered is as the architect of the comprehensive set of U.S. policies – including most notably the Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI or Star Wars) – which so stressed the Soviet economy as to bring it down, and in the process accelerated the collapse of Marxism in the former Soviet Union and ended the Cold War.

Iran-Contra Affair and Resignation

The Iran-Contra Affair involved running arms to Iran in order to get money to support the Contra Guerilla fighters in Nicaragua.

McFarlane was serving as an assistant to Secretary of State Alexander Haig, in 1981, when he authored "Taking the War to Nicaragua" and led the Restricted Inter-Agency Group (RIG) which formulated and carried out the administration's Central America policies. Later, as National Security Adviser, McFarlane urged Reagan to negotiate an arms deal with Iranian intermediaries against the advice of Secretary of Defense Caspar Weinberger and Secretary of State George Shultz.

In May 1986, after his retirement, he acted as an envoy for two planeloads of weapons parts delivered to the Iranians. When the first planeload failed to win Iranian cooperation or the release of any hostages, McFarlane refused to deliver the second plane and returned to the US where he advised the president to quit. When news of the secret mission was published in the Lebanese weekly Al Shiraa complete with unflattering details and confirmation from top Iranian officials, Chief of Staff Donald Regan attempted to spin the story. McFarlane refused to speak to the press but was rattled by Regan’s accusation that he had been the sole official behind the weapons transfers. McFarlane quickly shot off an email to Poindexter threatening a libel suit and warning that he “wouldn’t tolerate lies from Don Regan.”


Disheartened, and abused by his former colleagues, McFarlane tried to kill himself with an overdose of Valium on February 9, 1987, saying he had failed his country. In 1988 he pleaded guilty to four counts of withholding information from Congress for his role in 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 in the waning hours of his presidency on Christmas Eve 1992 along with the other key players in the scandal.

McFarlane later co-founded and served as CEO of Global Energy Investors.

McFarlane is a member of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy (WINEP) Board of Advisors, the Institute for the Analysis of Global Security Board of advisors, The Advisory Council of Aegis Defence Services and he 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.

On April 18, 2001, McFarlane said "I think in the Defense Department you may be seeing a little bit of a change, a significant change in how the Pentagon will contribute to policy formation, and that is that you have a very strong team, unusually strong team of service secretaries, who are usually irrelevant to the policy process. I think that'll be different in this administration."

Current Activities

Mr. McFarlane currently serves on a number boards including:

Military and Civilian Honors

On numerous occasions Mr. McFarlane was recognized for his duty, honor, and courage in the citations that have ben awarded to him for his personal achievements. In both his military and public assignments, his service was at the highest level of distinction as evidenced by the following awards:

  • The Distinguished Service Medal -- the Navy and Marine Corps’ highest recognition for service in peacetime
  • The Secretary of the Navy’s Medal for Distinguished Public Service
  • The Secretary of State’s Distinguished Service Award
  • The Bronze Star Medal with Combat “V”
  • The Meritorious Service Medal
  • The Navy Commendation Medal with Combat “V”
  • The Army Commendation Medal
  • The Combat Action Ribbon
  • The American-Swiss Friendship ‘Man of the Year” Award
  • The Alfred Thayer Mahan Award for Literary Achievement

See also


  • “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.
  • McFarlane, Robert C. / Smardz, Zofia: Special Trust. Pride, Principle and Politics Inside the White House. Cadell & Davies, New York, NY, 1994

External links

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