Rumsfeld 'trained ape' comment stirs controversy
March 26th, 2014
11:40 AM ET
4 months ago

Rumsfeld 'trained ape' comment stirs controversy

(CNN) – Former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld's comments earlier this week that a "trained ape" could have done a better job securing diplomatic relations with Afghanistan than the Obama administration sparked a backlash on social media.

But a Rumsfeld aide notes that he has used the phrase before and wasn't referring specifically to President Barack Obama.

"He feels strongly about how poorly the administration has handled diplomacy and that's what was reflected in his comments," Keith Urbahn, Rumsfeld's former chief of staff told CNN Wednesday.

"From a botched 'reset' with Russia, failing to secure a status of forces agreement to Iraq, to alienating Karzai to the point where he won't even talk to U.S. diplomats, to the latest diplomatic fiascos with Syria and Iran, it's been one epic fail after another," Urbahn added.

Rumsfeld told Fox News on Monday that "A trained ape could get a status of forces agreement" with Afghanistan.

"It does not take a genius. And we have so mismanaged that relationship," he said appearing on "On the Record with Greta Van Susteren."

Some on Twitter blasted Rumsfeld's comment as a reference to a derogatory term used against African Americans. Others took issue with Rumsfeld's own foreign policy and leadership of the defense department under former President George W. Bush's administration.

Rumsfeld comments come after Afghan President Hamid Karzai backed Russia's annexation of Crimea, following a referendum in the semi-autonomous region of Ukraine with a large pro-Russian population to secede and join Russia. The United States and members of the G7 condemned both the vote and Moscow's annexation of Crimea.

Rumsfeld said it's "understandable" that Karzai supported the much-criticized referendum given U.S. leaders' public criticism of his leadership.

"It seems to me they pushed him in a political box where he really has very little choice," he said of Karzai.

"I personally sympathize with him to some extent. Nobody, likes to hear a foreign leader side with Putin on the Crimea that way he had. But, I really think it's understandable, given the terrible, terrible diplomacy that the United States has conducted with Afghanistan over the last several years."

Taken as a whole, Rumsfeld's comments appeared to be referring to the Obama administration's foreign policy, not singling out the President, many took his "ape" comment as an offensive reference to the President's race.

Urbahn points to other instances when the former defense secretary used the "trained ape" phrase with regards to foreign policy matters.

In a July 2001 press conference in Washington on missile defense, Rumsfeld used the phrase in talking about how easy it is for countries to use new weapon technologies.

"...with the end of the Cold War and the relaxation of tension in the world, we've seen that proliferation of these technologies is pervasive. And that means that a trained ape can figure out that over the coming period, more people are going to have exceedingly powerful weapons, weapons more powerful than ever in the history of the world, biological weapons, nuclear weapons, chemical weapons," he said, according to a defense department transcript.

Rumsfeld later joked about the ape reference:

"You mean this isn't off the record? Strike when I said 'trained ape.' An untrained ape should know that," he said.

More recently, Rumsfeld used the phrase in an interview earlier this month with conservative radio host Mark Levin to criticized the Obama administration's standing in the international community.

He blasted Hillary Clinton's tenure as secretary of state, again saying a "trained ape" could get a status of forces agreement in Iraq or Afghanistan.

Rumsfeld served as defense secretary under former President Gerald Ford from 1975-1977, and a second time from 2001-2006 under Bush.

In 2002, he also used the phrase in making the case for war with Iraq.

"There's no debate in the world as to whether they have those weapons. We all know that. A trained ape knows that."

In the interview with Fox, he said: "Our relationship with Karzai and with Afghanistan was absolutely first rate in the Bush administration. It has gone downhill like a toboggan ever since the Obama administration came."

CNN's Dana Davidsen, Paul Steinhauser and Nancy Baker contributed to this report.


Filed under: Donald Rumsfeld • Hamid Karzai • Obama administration • Russia • Ukraine • Vladimir Putin
soundoff (1,000 Responses)
  1. ada ada

    "sparked a backlash on social media"

    the above are code words implying Liberally Biased Media BHObot buffoons agitating themselves into a tizzy over nothing (as always...LOL)...

    March 26, 2014 11:43 am at 11:43 am |
  2. Winning

    I think this is the last person on Earth who we should be getting foreign policy advice from. I think we'd be better off listening to the screaming of a trained ape.

    March 26, 2014 11:48 am at 11:48 am |
  3. Lynda/Minnesota

    Donald Rumsfeld? Knew exactly what the reaction would be.

    Until such time as we as a society put an end to this crap, our toilets will continue to overflow with the political sewage of that which has become nothing less than chuckle and giggles for the right wing.

    Gutter sewage. Yeah. It sells.

    March 26, 2014 11:52 am at 11:52 am |
  4. Gurgyl

    These guys are just criminals with culpable crimes. They are supposed to be in Gittmo.

    March 26, 2014 11:52 am at 11:52 am |
  5. Tampa Tim

    Rummy's message is playing well with the conservative media and their followers, who are not smarter than a third grader.

    March 26, 2014 11:57 am at 11:57 am |
  6. Gail me

    This being said from a member of one of the worst administrations we have ever had. Never mind tanking the economy, they also committed the worst foreign policy blunders I the entire history of this country. This caused us to lose all moral integrity. Every administration for the next few generations will have to carry the burden of mistrust. What a terrible man this is.

    March 26, 2014 11:58 am at 11:58 am |
  7. Marc

    At first blush, it may appear to reactionaries that this is a racist comment. Rumsfeld has been around the military where this is a common term used in training to motivate slackers. He's an old salt and just uses out of date rhetoric. I'm certain he didn't mean it the way OTHERS perceive.

    March 26, 2014 12:01 pm at 12:01 pm |
  8. Tampa Tim

    Even sewer rats and reptiles are rejecting Rummy, which means that his only followers are made up of single cell plant life.

    March 26, 2014 12:02 pm at 12:02 pm |
  9. Dutch/Bad Newz, VA -aka- Take Back The House

    What gives Rummy any credibility to pass judgement? As far as the reference to the ape goes, apparently he uses the phrase a lot. But being that we have our first African American POTUS, maybe Warmongerer Rummy should choose his irrelevant comments more carefully.

    March 26, 2014 12:02 pm at 12:02 pm |
  10. Kelly

    How is this man not in prison?

    March 26, 2014 12:02 pm at 12:02 pm |
  11. critical thinking

    If the ape fits, then wear it.

    March 26, 2014 12:02 pm at 12:02 pm |
  12. Steve Allard

    More gnashing of teeth and shaking of fists by former GOP appointees that can't stand that they are no longer in power. The people voted, you guys lost, suck it up.

    March 26, 2014 12:03 pm at 12:03 pm |
  13. Dominican mama 4 Obama

    @ Joi Gibson
    Joi I actually read the entire transcript of his speech at the Hague as well as his responses to what can only be termed as "impertinent" questions by the reporter and I must say that the President held his own quite well, AND he was backed by the Prime Minister when he spoke.
    What I don't understand is why is it acceptable behaviour for presidential losers, and political figures in general to openly question and demean a President's actions in such a tenous situation as the one we're facing in the Ukraine? This type of irresponsible lip-flapping, attention-calling, foreign policy destabilizing behaviour USED to be called unpatriotic AND un-American when the Crawford Village idiot inhabited 1600 Pennsylvania Ave.
    Why do the same "patriots" that would just as soon bury you in one of Cheney's many hidden bunkers for speaking out against Bush's arrogance be the same ones publicly undermining the security of the United States by directly undermining it's CIC?
    How is that all of a sudden acceptable? Why is no one telling these mental midgets who are not privy to high security briefings to zip it?

    March 26, 2014 12:04 pm at 12:04 pm |
  14. dl

    why isn't this war criminal in prison?!

    March 26, 2014 12:06 pm at 12:06 pm |
  15. J-Ho

    "There's no debate in the world as to whether they have those weapons. We all know that. A trained ape knows that."

    If anyone still takes anything Rumsfeld says as having a modicum of incorruptability then you need to stop drinking the KoolAid

    March 26, 2014 12:06 pm at 12:06 pm |
  16. Bionkwmn

    Sometimes it's better to just keep your mouth shut.

    March 26, 2014 12:06 pm at 12:06 pm |
  17. NJPAT

    The world sees the lack of respect that Obama gets from the people in this country. That's the example that they are following. It's a damn shame the way he is being treated. I get that Repubs disagree with his policies, however, their responses are always in a disgusting and loud manner. If Obama invented the cure for Cancer, Repubs would try to block that and say he's putting hospitals and doctors out of work.

    March 26, 2014 12:07 pm at 12:07 pm |
  18. Vince

    Thanks for the persistent state of economic disorder that cutting taxes and starting 2 wars at the same time brings! Really miss that Bush administration.

    March 26, 2014 12:07 pm at 12:07 pm |
  19. bluemountain

    If this man had an ounce of shame he'd disappear or at least keep his mouth shut. And that's a "known known". He's lucky he's not on trial.

    March 26, 2014 12:07 pm at 12:07 pm |
  20. Pete

    Rumsfeld should stop Monkeying around and say what he means.

    March 26, 2014 12:07 pm at 12:07 pm |
  21. Rudy NYC

    But a Rumsfeld aide notes that the former defense secretary has used the phrase before and wasn't referring specifically to President Barack Obama.

    Some on Twitter blasted Rumsfeld's comment as a reference to a derogatory term used against African Americans. Others took issue with Rumsfeld's own foreign policy and leadership of the defense department under former President George W. Bush's administration.
    -------------------------
    Please, note that no apology was given, not even a qualified one "for anyone who may have been offended." He's a typical conservative: offensive and unapologetic. It's a rule, you know. You're shamed if you ever have to apologize for something that you said or did. They never let you live you it down.

    Let's not forget about Rumsfeld first failed attempt at being Defense Secretary back in the 1970s where he was chastised by his fellow conservatives for "losing America's first war", the war in Vietam. He tried his best to make up for in Iraq. Mission Accomplished. We won.

    March 26, 2014 12:08 pm at 12:08 pm |
  22. John T

    No doubt that he intended it as an insult – that is plain to see – but I don't think it was intended to be racial in nature. I think he could care less about the race of the President.

    March 26, 2014 12:09 pm at 12:09 pm |
  23. Beth

    Trained dog, trained cat, trained elephant. Does it matter? A rose by another name smells as sweet.

    March 26, 2014 12:09 pm at 12:09 pm |
  24. DMR

    There is no excuse for the comments that Rumsfield made. He can feel free to disagree with the President, that is his right. However within the context of his "trained ape" remark and given our President is a man of color, there is totally and without exception no excuse for his comments. Rumsfield was hardly a shining success as Sec. of Defense. He clearly had a problem with speaking using truths and facts, a problem that appears to have continued. I seriously doubt he had received daily "top secret" briefings since he left office and knows little more than what the media is reporting.

    March 26, 2014 12:09 pm at 12:09 pm |
  25. Mike

    For his actions Rumsfeld should be in jail. He and others skirted the constitution and now they believe Obama is doing the same thing. It's the same old story with republicans: "Do as we say, not as we do".

    March 26, 2014 12:09 pm at 12:09 pm |
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