Robert McFarlane, a 1959 Annapolis graduate who rose to become former President Ronald Reagan’s National Security Advisor, died Thursday at 84.
McFarlane lived in Washington but was visiting family in Michigan at the time of his death, according to a New York Times report. The report added that family friend Bill Greener said McFarlane’s death stemmed from an unspecified previous lung condition.
Robert Carl McFarlane was born in Washington on July 12, 1937, and was the son of Democratic congressman William McFarlane from the Texas Panhandle. He married his high school girlfriend, Jonda Riley, after graduating from the Naval Academy and joining the Marines Corp. Captain McFarlane reportedly led one of the first combat missions in Vietnam.
He was arguably best known for his involvement in the Iran-Contra scandal that cast a pallor over the Reagan administration of the late 1980s. McFarlane was the only prinicipal to publicly accept responsibility for his part in the scheme to sell arms to Iran to gain the release of hostages held in Lebanon. The sales violated a congressional embargo of arms sales to the Islamic republic.
The second, and more illegal, part of the scandal — which McFarlane was reportedly not privy to — involved funneling profits from the Iranian arms sales to Nicaraguan rebels trying to overthrow the Sandinista regime. Congress had explicitly banned supporting the Contra rebels in their quest to rid the country of the ruling Marxist regime.
Iran-Contra was an operation reportedly run out of the White House with the cooperation of the Central Intelligence Agency. McFarlane distinguished himself in its aftermath by his full and unequivocal acceptance of blame for his actions, the report noted. Everyone else either defended the operation as just and wise or ducked responsibility. The episode raised questions as to how much Reagan was aware of what was going on in his own White House.
McFarlane became so remorseful he attempted suicide in his home in February 1987 by taking an overdose of Valium, according to the report. He underwent many weeks of psychiatric therapy at the Bethesda Naval Hospital after the attempt.
The former security advisor was a fervent advocate of repairing relations with Iran. After he left the White House, he reportedly made a secret 1987 visit to Iran, traveling incognito, at President Reagan’s request. He met with various Iranian officials but determined the meetings were a waste of time, he said, like the results of the arms sales themselves.
A few hostages were released sporadically in Lebanon but the number released was fewer than promised, and eventually new hostages were seized.
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