Remarks Announcing the Resignation of Robert C. McFarlane as Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs and the Appointment of John M. Poindexter

December 4, 1985

The President. I have a statement I wish to read to you.

It's with deep regret and reluctance that I have accepted the resignation of Bud McFarlane as my Assistant for National Security Affairs. Bud's more than 30 years of service to his nation have been exemplary in every respect. He has served in peace and war, ranging from his early days at the Naval Academy to Vietnam and to the White House. And few have served with more dedication, none with more loyalty.

A little over 2 years ago, I asked Bud to serve as my national security adviser. He continued his record of distinguished service in this most sensitive and critical assignment. I know of no President who has been better served. Bud has offered me wise counsel and has been a trusted adviser and confidant in carrying out our administration's foreign policy goals and objectives. He has an impressive list of successes of which he can justly be proud: his key role in the preparation for the Geneva summit meeting and his contribution toward greater stability in East-West relations; his unending efforts which have helped strengthen the Western alliance; his service in the Middle East as my personal envoy at a most difficult time and at great personal risk; his key role in carrying out our counterterrorism policies, as exemplified by the TWA hijacking incident and our recent operation leading to the apprehension of the hijackers of the Achille Lauro.

Bud, I know that you're eager now to move on to new personal and professional challenges. Let me say that I shall never forget the sacrifices that you and your family have made in the service of your country, and I wish you and your family the best success and happiness in the future. But before you get too comfortable, I should warn you that I'll probably be calling on you from time to time for your wise counsel and advice.

As in all things in life, while Bud's departure is a cause of deep regret for me, I'm pleased to announce that I have appointed Vice Admiral John M. Poindexter to be the new Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs. I appointed John as Deputy Assistant for National Security Affairs on October 17th, 1983. He has served in that capacity in an exemplary manner and has proved to be a truly steady hand at the helm. Since he first joined the National Security Council staff in June 1981 as the Military Assistant, he has played a key role. His naval career began with his graduation at the head of his class at the U.S. Naval Academy. And he was not only first in his class at the Naval Academy but, also, brigade commander, an achievement rarely duplicated. And I know of only one other, and that was Douglas MacArthur at West Point.

In choosing Admiral Poindexter for this key position in our national security affairs structure, I am acknowledging the very important contribution that he has already made to the formulation and carrying out of our major foreign policy objectives. I'm also underscoring the great value I place in the continuity of our foreign policy. For 5 years John has been intimately involved in this administration's national security affairs and is well prepared and able to assume this very important post. So, I welcome you onboard the captain's deck, John, and wish you the very best success.

Admiral Poindexter. Thank you, sir. Mr. President, I'm greatly honored by this position that you are bestowing upon me. It's going to be very difficult to fill in behind Bud. We've worked together as a team -- really, the three of us -- for over the past 2 years, and it's always difficult to lose one of the team members. But we've got a very good staff, and we will continue to provide the President with the best advice available.

Mr. McFarlane. Mr. President, John, and colleagues, ladies and gentlemen, I'm deeply grateful, Mr. President, for you have allowed me to serve in your administration at a moment in our history that is terribly exciting, where the opportunity for our country has been enormous. I think philosophers have devoted a great amount of thought to whether or not intrinsic flaws in democracy and free enterprise would, over time, lead such systems to decline. And I think it's fair to say that 5 years ago many were saying that that decline was in fact taking place: We'd lost a war, our economy was in great chaos, the military balance had shifted dramatically against us, and with it the willingness of the Soviet Union to take risks was being expressed from Angola to Ethiopia, Cambodia, Afghanistan, Nicaragua. And yet the importance of your stewardship, Mr. President, has been that those predictions have declined, have been reversed, and that a great national renewal has taken place. Today, 5 years later, we see the expression of that renewal, foremostly, in the reality of peace, that the United States is once more leading and deterring, and an economy that is recovering with impressive pace and quality, and with it the resources going to provide assistance where it's needed to struggling countries that gives them some hope for their own futures.

And so, the recovery and the restoration of American leadership is very, very well along indeed. That's not to say the job is finished. There are very, very fundamental questions to be answered in the next 3 years. For example, can the impressive renewal of the American economic strength be replicated in other democracies? Can the countries of Europe follow this model, reduce government intervention in their economy, reduce consumption of the product of their own societies? With regard to developing countries, can the United States -- without imposing its model, by sheer example -- provide sufficient political, economic, and moral incentives to lead these countries in the post-colonial period to adopt democracy, free enterprise? With regard to East-West relations, after the enormously successful renewal of a stable discourse, can we move beyond to wage peace and wage a peaceful competition with a fundamentally different system at lower levels of arms, with broadened cooperation, but always at peace? Based upon the strength of your leadership, Mr. President, and the support you've engendered from industrial democracies and developing countries in these past 5 years, there's no question in my mind but that your stewardship will include as its legacy continued peace, stability, arms reduction, and an evermore inspiring model for developing countries throughout the world.

For my own part, after 30 years, I can only say how deeply grateful I am for the honor and privilege that you have bestowed upon me to serve at this time. Thank you.

Q. Why are you leaving?

Q. Mr. President, there's been a lot of talk, as you well know, that Mr. McFarlane is really leaving because of personality clashes, turf battles, with Mr. Regan. Could you and Mr. McFarlane both speak to this question of what role the McFarlane-Regan problems had in his decision to leave?

The President. Whether he feels he wants to speak or not about this, let me just say -- and I say this with full confidence that he endorses what I'm going to say -- you have all been misinformed about that. The reason that has been given is one in which, after 30 years in which this country has been his first priority, he feels a responsibility, that I think all of us feel, toward his family. And the things that he just spoke of here and about what I might have contributed and what has taken place and the change in America in these last few years, he has been a very, very major part of that change. And we're all going to miss him.

Q. Are you saying there is no turf war -- --

Q. But weren't there problems with Mr. Regan, sir?

Mr. McFarlane. That's nonsense.

The President. There.

Q. Mr. President, there are those who suggest that you were better served when there were multiplicity of voices competing for attention inside the west wing. And that under Mr. Regan, there will be no point of view funneled to you, which doesn't go through him. What do you say to that, sir?

The President. I can just simply say that the national security adviser reports directly to me and does not go through the chief of staff.

Q. Did you tell him that?

The President. What?

Q. Does he know that?

The President. Yes. Yes.

Q. Mr. Poindexter, do you get along with Mr. Regan? Do you think you will have clashes and turf battles with him?

Admiral Poindexter. Well, as you probably know, the Navy and the Marine Corps always get along well together. [Laughter] I don't anticipate any problems. Don and I are good friends. I've known him since he was Secretary of Treasury. And with regard to the last question about access to the President, Don Regan told me that yesterday, that I had direct access. So, it won't be a problem.

Q. Mr. President, in the -- --

Q. Mr. President, what does this -- --

Q. -- -- nearly 6 years of your Presidency -- --

Q. -- -- what does this change -- --

Q. -- -- an extraordinarily large number of people have either resigned under pressure or of their own volition. Can you tell us why?

The President. I have read stories that have disturbed me probably more than anything that has happened since I've been in this office, things of that kind. I happen to believe in something that might be a little unusual in Washington with regard to the Cabinet structure and staff. And that is that I want to hear all sides of every issue before I make the decision that I have to make. And as I understand it, normally, that's not been the nature of Cabinet and staff workings in this office. Whether that's true or not, I don't know; I only know about ours. But for that to be translated into what I am desiring -- for that to be translated into as somehow friction and every time someone leaves -- I said in the very beginning, when I first came here and realized I had appointments to make, that I would take people if they could only stay a year, 2 years, whatever it might be, because the kind of people I wanted were the kind of people who didn't necessarily want government jobs. And I wanted that kind of success in here. And so, every once in a while someone has to move on and have their own obligations, their own responsibilities, and this is the case here.

Q. Mr. President, in terms of Mr. Beggs and others who have had to leave government under your regime, don't you wonder at the clearance policies of the administration, where so many people have had to leave under a cloud?

The President. I don't think it's been so many people, when you stop to think that there are upwards of a thousand people that are appointed. And with regard to Mr. Beggs, I don't know of anyone who could have done a finer job than he has done and is doing at NASA. And we're talking about something that is supposed to have happened prior to government service. And, also, if you read it correctly, not something in which he in any way was doing anything -- if he was doing this at all -- that would redound to his benefit personally or enrich him in any way. And I believe that everyone is innocent until proven guilty of whatever they're charged with. And -- --

Q. But you did -- --

The President. -- -- I can look over the record -- --

Q. -- -- approve of him stepping aside for a while?

The President. What? Well, I think that that is necessary for him because -- time requirements that'll be brought about by this. But I think -- --

Q. Mr. McFarlane, could you tell us where you're going and what you're going to do?

Principal Deputy Press Secretary Speakes. This is going to be the last question.

Mr. McFarlane. I have no plans and I -- I don't know. If you've got any leads, let me know. [Laughter]

Q. How about an ambassadorship?

Q. How would you feel about appointing him as an Ambassador, Mr. President?

The President. What?

Q. There's been some talk that he might like to be an Ambassador. How would you feel about that?

The President. That -- I -- what do I say? Yes, anything. But the man has told me and has said that he needs to leave government service now for certain responsibilities that he feels to his family.

Q. Do you support Rostenkowski's tax plan, Mr. President?

The President. What did he say?

Q. Tax plan.

Q. Rostenkowski's tax plan.

Q. Tax plan.

Q. Rostenkowski's tax plan, sir?

The President. I hope that the process goes forward and through the Senate and then into a conference and that we get tax reform.

Q. Does that mean yes?

Q. That's a yes?

Q. Yes, you do?

The President. What?

Q. Yes, you support it?

The President. I just said I want the process to go forward.

Q. Admiral, will we ever see you? [Laughter]

Admiral Poindexter. Maybe.

Q. Thank you.

Note: The President spoke to reporters at 2:31 p.m. in the Briefing Room at the White House.