A taciturn retired Marine Corps lieutenant colonel, Mr. McFarlane worked in the 1970s and 1980s at the nexus of the military and political establishment. He was the son of a congressman, a U.S. Naval Academy graduate and a decorated combat veteran of the Vietnam War.
In the early 1970s, he was a military assistant to Henry Kissinger, who was both secretary of state and national security adviser to President Richard M. Nixon. Mr. McFarlane’s later efforts in Iran were often perceived as a misguided effort to emulate Kissinger’s groundbreaking inroads at restoring relations with communist China.
After his military resignation in 1979, Mr. McFarlane served on the staff of the Senate Armed Services Committee then became counselor to Secretary of State Alexander Haig during the early years of the Reagan administration.
Mr. McFarlane was Haig’s point man for difficult assignments in the Middle East and with Congress, and he won plaudits for persuading Congress to restore money for the MX missile program and to advance nuclear arms control negotiations with the Soviet Union.
He became deputy national security adviser and, in 1982, he pushed for the deployment of U.S. Marines to Lebanon for a peacekeeping mission. It was a risky move that ended in catastrophe when terrorists bombed the Marine barracks, killing more than 240 U.S. service members in October 1983, just two weeks into Mr. McFarlane’s new job as Reagan’s top security adviser.
As national security adviser, he was credited with helping shape Reagan’s proposed antimissile Strategic Defense Initiative, popularly known as “Star Wars.” But nearly all he did was overshadowed by the Iran-contra scandal, the illegal sale of arms to Iran in exchange for that country’s help to free American hostages held in Lebanon. The effort was also intended to help restore U.S. diplomatic relations with Iran, which had been broken after the 1979 Islamic revolution.
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SOURCE: The Washington Post, Jerrold Schecter