WASHINGTON — Robert C. McFarlane, a former adorned Marine officer who rose in civilian life to be President Ronald Reagan’s nationwide safety adviser after which fell from grace within the Iran-contra scandal, died on Thursday in Lansing, Mich. He was 84.
Mr. McFarlane, who lived in Washington, was visiting household in Michigan on the time. A household pal, Invoice Greener, mentioned the dying stemmed from an unspecified earlier lung situation.
Mr. McFarlane pleaded responsible in 1988 to costs of withholding data from Congress in its investigation of the affair, through which the Reagan administration bought arms covertly to Iran starting in 1985 in change for the liberty of Western hostages in Lebanon. Income from the arms gross sales have been then secretly funneled to the contra rebels in Nicaragua, who have been attempting to overthrow the nation’s Marxist regime, often known as the Sandinistas.
Each components of the scheme have been unlawful; Congress had imposed an arms embargo in opposition to Iran and prohibited American assist to the contras.
Mr. McFarlane, Bud to his pals and associates, was one among many gamers within the operation, which was run out of the White Home with the cooperation of the Central Intelligence Company. However he distinguished himself in its aftermath by his full and unequivocal acceptance of blame for his actions. Everybody else concerned had both defended the operation as simply and sensible or sought to disclaim duty.
The episode stained the Reagan administration and raised questions as to how a lot the president was conscious of what was occurring in his personal White Home.
And its fallout left Mr. McFarlane so ridden with guilt that he tried suicide in his house in February 1987. Whereas his spouse, Jonda, a highschool English instructor, was upstairs grading papers, he took an overdose of Valium and obtained into mattress alongside her. When he couldn’t be roused within the morning, he was taken to a hospital and revived. He subsequently underwent many weeks of psychiatric remedy on the Bethesda Naval Hospital.
It was a surprising act in official Washington. Many thought of it an unconcealed howl of ache by somebody from whom they might have least anticipated it — one of many capital’s most self-contained of public and highly effective males.
Killing himself, Mr. McFarlane believed on the time, was “the honorable factor to do,” he mentioned in an interview for this obituary in January 2016 at his house within the Watergate complicated in Washington.
“I so let down the nation,” he mentioned.
He had earlier tried to clarify his actions by citing the traditional Japanese custom of the honorable suicide. However he got here to appreciate, he mentioned within the interview, that these methods had no resonance in trendy American tradition and that most individuals couldn’t perceive such conduct.
Mr. McFarlane at all times asserted — and he was supported by proof — that he had been concerned principally within the Iran a part of the scandal, and that he had been blind to the extra blatantly unlawful portion, the sending of income from the weapons gross sales to the Nicaraguan contras.
Mr. McFarlane had been a fervent advocate of repairing relations with Iran — a lot in order that after he left the White Home he made a secret go to there in 1987, touring incognito, at President Reagan’s request. There he met with numerous officers however discovered that the conferences have been a waste of time, he mentioned.
The outcomes of the arms gross sales themselves have been little higher: A couple of hostages have been launched sporadically by Iran’s allies in Lebanon — fewer than had been promised — and, in any occasion, new hostages have been subsequently seized.
The scheme started to unravel on Oct. 5, 1986, when a airplane supplying arms to the contras was shot down in Nicaragua, exposing the mission and prompting an investigation by a joint congressional committee and televised hearings. Summoned to testify, Mr. McFarlane and his former deputy, Lt. Col. Oliver L. North — White Home figures little identified to the general public till then — emerged into the glare of nationwide publicity as key gamers within the affair.
Colonel North, nonetheless an officer on energetic responsibility on the time, was an enthusiastic participant within the scheme. He held forth earlier than a joint congressional investigating committee in full gown uniform (he had favored enterprise fits within the White Home), at occasions expressing defiance, at different occasions insisting that he had been motivated by patriotism.
Colonel North’s testimony made him a nationwide hero to many conservatives, and he later parlayed that assist into internet hosting a chat present, writing books and working, although unsuccessfully, for the US Senate from Virginia because the Republican nominee. (He was later president of the Nationwide Rifle Affiliation for lower than a 12 months.)
Mr. McFarlane, in contrast, didn’t garner any such public adulation and even a lot assist. Job gives have been withdrawn, he wrote, and he was requested to resign from a company board.
In his memoir, he recalled that at the beginning he had preferred Colonel North, his fellow Marine, and thought that they’d a lot in frequent. That modified after he found, he mentioned, that Colonel North had deceived him about lots of his actions.
He wrote that in misjudging Colonel North he “didn’t see what was actually there, the manipulative ability, the straightforward betrayal, the hubris and the fierce ambition for private development.” He campaigned in opposition to him within the Virginia election.
Mr. McFarlane did, nevertheless, win approval from a few of those that had investigated the Iran-contra affair.
One member of the investigating committee, Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan, Democrat of New York, praised his testimony, saying that there was “no ‘cute,’ no evasion. ‘I’m right here, I’ll inform you the whole lot I do know.’”
The impartial prosecutor, Lawrence E. Walsh, who was pissed off by the stiff resistance of others who had been concerned within the operation, acknowledged that he had been so moved by Mr. McFarlane’s forthrightness and contrition that he selected to cost him with solely 4 misdemeanor counts.
Mr. McFarlane served a sentence of 200 hours of group service, partly by serving to to determine an impartial dwelling program for the disabled in suburban Washington, and by establishing a pc program itemizing after-school leisure applications for space youths.
Earlier than he left workplace, President George H.W. Bush pardoned Mr. McFarlane on Christmas Eve, 1992, together with others concerned within the Iran-contra affair, together with Protection Secretary Caspar W. Weinberger.
An unresolved query on the coronary heart of the Iran-contra matter was the extent of President Reagan’s information and assist. The episode has been an essential space of examine for students pondering if Reagan — who after his retirement was acknowledged to have Alzheimer’s illness — had begun to lose his psychological acuity within the White Home. Mr. McFarlane, in interviews and in his memoirs, depicted the president as typically confused or imprecise in regards to the particulars of what was occurring with Iran and the contras. However he depicted Mr. Reagan as principally in management.
Robert Carl McFarlane was born in Washington on July 12, 1937, the son of a Democratic congressman, William McFarlane, from the Texas Panhandle and a grandson of a Texas Ranger. Regardless of these roots, he was to have little Texas in him, rising up within the Washington space.
He graduated excessive in his class in 1959 from the Naval Academy in Annapolis; married his highschool girlfriend, Jonda Riley; and joined the Marines. As a captain, he led one of many first fight operations in Vietnam. He described the operation as nearly farcical.
His commanding basic, he recalled in an interview, insisted that he take his troops ashore in a troublesome waterborne touchdown, although it could it have been simpler to get to their vacation spot by merely docking at a close-by pier. A shore touchdown was extra appropriate for Marines, the overall advised him. Mr. McFarlane mentioned his coronary heart sunk as he watched his command jeep plunge to the underside of a hidden lagoon.
Within the 2016 interview with The Instances, Mr. McFarlane lamented that whereas he was the nationwide safety adviser, he didn’t press the essential lesson he thought he had discovered in Vietnam: that the US mustn’t wage conflict with out clear and robust assist at house. He mentioned the Reagan administration had been incorrect to attempt to assist the contras as a result of there was little public assist, as evidenced by the congressional ban on assist to them.
Mr. McFarlane was a shock option to succeed William P. Clark Jr. in October 1983 as Reagan’s second nationwide safety adviser, the individual within the White Home accountable for coordinating coverage among the many State and Protection Departments and different authorities companies. He was typically thought of a employees individual, a notable distinction from a few of his extra well-known predecessors, who brimmed with considerable self-confidence and printed scholarly works, like Henry A. Kissinger and Zbigniew Brzezinski.
He started his climb within the nationwide safety institution whereas nonetheless a lieutenant colonel within the Marines, when he gained a White Home fellowship and labored for Mr. Kissinger after which Brent Scowcroft after they have been nationwide safety advisers. He additionally held senior employees positions on the Senate Overseas Relations Committee and the State Division.
In response to modern accounts, he performed essential roles in difficult and vital arms management negotiations with the Soviet Union and, particularly, selling and guiding President Reagan’s antimissile protection program often known as Star Wars. The system was by no means put in place, but it surely was mentioned to have pressured Moscow to vastly speed up army spending to the detriment of the Soviet Union, hastening its collapse.
After he left the federal government, Mr. McFarlane based a global enterprise consulting firm specializing in vitality points.
His survivors embody his spouse; three youngsters, Lauren, Melissa and Scott; two sisters; and eight grandchildren.
Jordan Allen contributed reporting.