National NewsUSA News

The Bud McFarlane that I knew

here’s how The New York Times wrote of the death of a war hero-turned-civil servant in a May 13 newsletter: “Robert McFarlane, a senior Reagan aide who fell out of favor in the Iran-Contra scandal, has died at age 84.”

It’s understood? A U.S. Marine who served his country in Vietnam, who worked on the National Security Council (NSC) for three presidents — rising to the top of the NSC under President Ronald Reagan — is reduced, in one title, to an “assistant who fell from grace” in a “scandal”.

If you had that kind of media power, what characterization would you do burst out about a fellow patriot? I hope you would be more charitable than the Time.

A graduate of the United States Naval Academy, McFarlane received a commission in the Marines in 1959. In 1965 he led one of the first Marine combat units in Vietnam. He did two tours.

After that, he was made a member of the White House, a great honor. From there he was assigned to the NSC, working for President Richard Nixon’s top diplomat, Henry Kissinger, on the China desk, traveling to China several times with Kissinger.

In 1979, McFarlane retired from the Marines as a lieutenant colonel, going to work on Capitol Hill for Sen. John Tower (R-TX), who led opposition to President Jimmy Carter’s SALT II arms control treaty. . Carter had signed that treaty – and sealed the deal with a kiss, in fact – with Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev. For their part, Tower and other Republicans, aided by McFarlane, opposed the deal as one-sided (no wonder Brezhnev was so happy).

Soviet President Leonid Brezhnev (right) embraces US President Jimmy Carter (left) after the two leaders signed the SALT II treaty in Vienna, Austria, June 18, 1979. (AP Photo)

In fact, SALT II was so unpopular among Americans that it never even passed in a Democratic-controlled Senate. (Former Sen. Joe Biden was in favor of SALT II.)

After Ronald Reagan defeated Carter in the 1980 presidential election, McFarlane went to the State Department and then to the NSC, first as deputy and then as chief. It was under McFarlane’s leadership, on March 8, 1983, that the 40th president called the Soviet Union an “evil empire.” And McFarlane was also there on March 23, 1983, when Reagan launched his Strategic Defense Initiative. The purpose of SDI was to protect the United States from nuclear annihilation, and believe it or not, the left at the time, including most top Democrats, thought SDI was a terrible idea.

For example, the 1984 Democratic platform dubbed SDI “Star Wars,” tearing it up as “phantom,” “futile,” and “provocative… lull[ing] our nation into a false sense of security. Yes, the Democrats were that determined to leave the United States defenseless against atomic destruction.

The Bud McFarlane that I knew

President Ronald Reagan hosts a White House luncheon for Soviet Foreign Minister Andrei Gromyko on September 28, 1984. Identified from left are Soviet Ambassador Anatoliy Dobrynin, Gromyko, and U.S. Ambassador to the Union Soviet Arthur Hartman. Top right of table: National Security Advisor Robert McFarlane, Presidential Advisor Edwin Meese, Vice President George Bush and Reagan. (AP Photo/Barry Thumma)

McFarlane resigned from his post in 1985, and the following year he found himself embroiled in the Iran-Contra “scandal” alongside another Navy Lt. Col. serving in the NSC, Ollie North.

I put the quotes around “scandal” because I view the Iran-Contra affair as a political dispute, not a scandal. In a nutshell, the Reagan administration wanted to send weapons to the anticommunists Versus in Nicaragua and at the same time he wanted to explore the possibility of better relations with Iran, aided by arms sales to Iran, which the Iranians needed to fight Iraq.

Four decades later, these questions are still obscure; and yet it should be noted that at the time the Reagan administration had the quiet support of allies in the Middle East, including Israel. Yet Democrats and the media chose to drag Iran-Contra into a years-long “scandal” of independent counsel and gleeful talk of impeachment. Does this sound like a playbook that Dems and MSM have been playing since?

Meanwhile, McFarlane was nearly 60; he retired to eminence grise status in Washington, DC.

I first met him in 1991 while working in the White House of President George HW Bush. At the time, as the Soviet Union was collapsing, the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace hosted a talk and Q&A from the Soviet Ambassador to the United States, Vladimir Lukin. McFarlane waited his turn, then stood up and asked a question:

In 1983, President Reagan launched a program of economic challenge to the Soviet Union. It was called the Strategic Defense Initiative. Could you please tell us the impact SDI had on the Soviet Union?

I’m paraphrasing here, and of course SDI was, strictly speaking, a missile defense program. And yet it was so expensive – to build or to defend – that it counted as an economic program, a kind of peaceful war of attrition against the Soviets. Lukin replied

During the Cold War, we knew we could compete with the Americans in missiles. You build a big missile, we build a big missile, even a bigger missile. But we were worried that SDI was something different. When the Americans announced it, [then leader Yuri] Andropov ordered two parallel studies of his potential threat to our nuclear force, one by the Red Army and one by the Soviet Academy of Sciences. Two years later, they both came back with the same answer: We don’t know if, in fact, the Americans can build it, but we know we can’t. Until then, [Mikhail] Gorbachev was in charge, and he said, “If the Americans can be able to do this, and we can’t, it’s too big a risk. And so we have to change everything we do. We cannot stand still in the face of this threat.

And so, Lukin added with a sigh, Gorbachev launched a vast campaign of domestic experimentation…uskorenia, glasnost, perestroika– which had the unintended effect of dismantling the Soviet system. Lukin concluded – and this is a quote, some things you’ll never forget – “It hastened the decline of our system by five to ten years.”

Not bad. Get rid of the Evil Empire without firing a shot.

I was so impressed with what I had heard – and so intrigued by McFarlane’s role in this grand sequence of events – that I invited him to lunch at the White House Mess. I began by thanking him for his service in and out of uniform, and he responded with a tight smile, “Call me Bud.”

During our meal, he was graceful and reserved and always, like a Marine, even sitting straight as a stick. He told me an interesting story about the genesis of SDI: One of the controversial sticking points in the writing of the SDI speech was Reagan’s insistence that it include a commitment to “eliminate the threat posed by strategic nuclear missiles.” That is to say for everything of humanity, including the Russians.

Why did Reagan want to say that? Because he was liberal? Of course not. Reagan was more hardline and anti-Communist than ever, and yet he knew that if he was going to bring the Democrats – who then controlled the US House – along with the rest of the world, he was going to show a little liberal “leg”. It was a gesture, even a ploy, in the image of an executive who had learned to negotiate with the liberals at the head of the Screen Actors Guild in the 1940s and 1950s.

McFarlane briefed me on this, pointing out that during the Oval Office negotiations, the Departments of State and Defense opposed such discussions of denuclearization. The Secretaries of State and Defense, George Shultz and Caspar Weinberger, were both wise and honorable men, and yet they simply could not bring themselves to see Reagan’s scheme.

As McFarlane recounted the scene, Reagan said what he wanted in the draft speech, and state and defense officials nodded – and yet the revised draft came back as state and defense wanted. , not as Reagan intended. This happened twice, McFarlane recalls, and after the second time Reagan abandoned the process and simply wrote the words as he wanted them.

I asked Bud what he thought of all this: “I supported the president in his decision. Said like a loyal employee. The job of the NSC, he explained, is not to make policy, but rather to facilitate policy making. And the president is the commander-in-chief.

The Bud McFarlane that I knew

President Ronald Reagan speaks with the media after arriving at the White House on October 22, 1983, as First Lady Nancy Reagan looks on. Behind Reagan stand National Security Advisor Robert McFarlane (right) and US Secretary of State George Schultz (left). (AP Photo/Barry Thumma)

On one level, it’s an interesting historical overview of a bureaucratic standoff, and yet, if we step back, we see the full panorama of Reagan’s vision: he was an anti-Communist at heart, and yet he could see the value of “sweetening the pot” in his dealings with the Soviets. They were still the evil empire, and yet they existed, and so Reagan had to deal with them. And he did. And the United States won.

Needless to say, Reagan never got rid of our nuclear arsenal. It will always be a dangerous world, and so we need our nuclear deterrent and also our nuclear defenses.

Fortunately, now the idea of ​​missile defense – against nuclear weapons from North Korea, China and, yes, again, Russia – is widely accepted on both sides. We can consider this as another success of Reagan, bringing both parties to realize that America must be defended.

The last time I saw Bud was in 2019. When the usual DC chatter took on a serious tone, McFarlane also got serious: The choices we make, he said, will resonate for 50 years, and so we must make the right choices. The room erupted in applause.

More than 50 years ago, McFarlane made his choices, and they were decisive for his country as well as for himself. And in the end, they turned out well, even though The New York Times does not agree.


Not all news on the site expresses the point of view of the site, but we transmit this news automatically and translate it through programmatic technology on the site and not from a human editor.
Back to top button