Robert C. McFarlane is emerging as a powerful, if unflamboyant, national-security adviser to the President, with a weighty voice in foreign-policy making. With Congress away and President Reagan vacationing in California, it has not gone unnoticed that ``Bud'' McFarlane is out front these days, dominating many August headlines:
Recently he met with South African Foreign Minister Roelof Botha in Vienna to signal that Mr. Reagan would be unable to withstand the congressional moves for sanctions unless South Africa put through reforms to change its system of apartheid.
Following South African President Pieter W. Botha's subsequent hard-line speech, Mr. McFarlane delivered the White House's cautious response in Santa Barbara, Calif., the next day and later appeared on Cable News Network to voice disappointment over the failure to lift the state of emergency in South Africa.
This week he gave a speech to local civic groups in Santa Barbara rebuking Soviet actions on security issues and warning that it would be hard to improve Soviet-American relations unless Moscow changed its approach.
Such visibility is in sharp contrast to McFarlane's low-key style when he first took over the post in October 1983. An ex-Marine lieutenant colonel, McFarlane is a quiet-spoken but tough-minded man who had won a reputation as a loyal, indefatigable presidential aide content to work unobtrusively behind the scenes to resolve conflicts within the bureaucracy.
But, especially since Reagan's second term began, McFarlane has gradually assumed more influence -- drafting position papers, chairing working groups, and taking charge in such situations as the Beirut hostage crisis. Today he frequently briefs the press, with television cameras rolling, and appears on TV talk shows.
Two things are seen to account for McFarlane's growing role.
One is the competition with White House chief of staff Donald T. Regan and the desire to make himself indispensable and keep his independence. It is the normal bureaucratic reaction of anyone in a White House environment not to be swallowed up by the chief of staff. Informed sources say McFarlane is consciously battling to prevent this from happening.
But beyond such personal considerations, diplomatic experts see McFarlane's rise of influence as a natural process.
In the beginning, they say, presidents are often under pressure from the secretary of state to ensure that the national-security adviser remains an ``inside guy'' and not a visible foreign-policy spokesman who can undercut the secretary.