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Robert C. “Bud” McFarlane passed away this week. His resume was long and distinguished – Naval Academy graduate, decorated Vietnam war hero, military aide to Henry Kissinger in the Nixon and Ford administrations, and President Reagan’s National Security Advisor.
But Washington being Washington, commentators have focused on McFarlane’s role in the Iran Contra affair, the scandal du jour of the later years of the Reagan administration, when U.S. officials tried unsuccessfully to reestablish a relationship with Iran.
To focus primarily on the scandal misses the role McFarlane played as an unsung hero in Reagan’s ultimate Cold War victory over the Soviet Union. Many others took the credit, but few deserved it more than Bud McFarlane.
Reagan famously said his policy toward the Soviet Union and the Cold War was simple – “We win, they lose.”
It was left to McFarlane, Reagan’s National Security Advisor, and a handful of others to figure out how to do it.
In the early days of the Reagan administration, they crafted a comprehensive, carefully engineered and sequenced series of steps that would make the Soviet Union’s ultimate demise inevitable.
They began by:
*Restoring America’s economic health and growth
*Rebuilding and modernizing America’s military
*Revitalizing the NATO alliance
*Halting transfer of American technology to the USSR
*Blocking Soviet access to the western capital and banks.
The next step was Reagan’s “Star Wars” initiative. McFarlane was instrumental in Reagan’s proposal to develop a missile shield that would protect us from a Soviet nuclear attack.
Once these elements were in place, McFarlane and other aides set out to stress the Soviet economy by reducing revenues. They convinced the Saudis to pump more oil into the world market, which drove the price from $27 to $10 a barrel in mid-1980s.
The Soviet Union, already stressed from an expensive military buildup and bled by proxy wars, suddenly saw its revenues cut in half.
When the Soviet Union experienced several years of bad harvests in the late 1980s, they could not take out loans to buy wheat to feed their people. The Soviet empire collapsed, seemingly overnight.
President Reagan won the Cold War without firing a shot. But he didn’t do it alone.
McFarlane played a crucial role in developing the strategy and laying out the steps to make it happen. But he was too modest to claim the credit.
Today, America is consumed by another economic crisis, and once again confronted by powerful adversaries. Few at home or abroad have much confidence in our current batch of leaders to reverse course.
Today, Washington is filled with men and women who refuse to take blame for failures of their own making, yet scramble to take credit for successes they had nothing to do with.
McFarlane was just the opposite. He owned up to his mistakes, yet let others take credit for his successes. It’s a tragedy there aren’t a few more people like Bud McFarlane in Washington today.
Although no relation, McFarlane was my mentor and friend for the last 50 years.
I will sorely miss him. So will America.