Rumsfeld 'trained ape' comment stirs controversy
March 26th, 2014
11:40 AM ET
5 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. BLUNDERSON

    Me think Ken Knerp is a Derp. All fault belong to Ken for picking W.

    March 26, 2014 01:33 pm at 1:33 pm |
  2. Michael

    This is a man who is directly responsible for the loss of untold number of lives in Iraq, both Americans and Iraqis.
    There was no Al Qaida in Iraq before the Bush, Rumsfeld, Rice , Wolfowitz folly. He mismanaged our incursion into
    Afghanistan in our attempt to kill or capture Bin Laden, relying more on the Afghan Northern Alliance than on US manpower.
    He is if a war criminal and should be given no recognition for anything but his arrogance and his lies to Americans leading up to and during the Iraq War.

    March 26, 2014 01:33 pm at 1:33 pm |
  3. mcjny

    This is the same blindness that allows bernie madoff to complain that he doesn't like the new mayor of NYC. because he's not fond of REDISTRIBUTION OF WEALTH. its mind numbing, now the man who presided over the worst attack in US history, the destruction of our economy, 2 wars for zero objectives, and a search for WMDs still has found none. but this is how you get in the news cycle. you come out and say insufferably stupid and crass things. Then you get interviews. it's the modern buzz media. what can be done.

    March 26, 2014 01:34 pm at 1:34 pm |
  4. neastsider

    A prime architect of the Middle east wars, at least should be in prison, at most in front of a firing squad

    March 26, 2014 01:34 pm at 1:34 pm |
  5. joshocom

    I suspect he's just jealous that other apes got training, and he didn't.

    March 26, 2014 01:34 pm at 1:34 pm |
  6. Church of Suicidal

    Thanks for giving us the war criminal's perspective on foreign policy, Rummy! I have no idea how you managed to avoid being tried for your handling of Iraq / Afghanistan.

    March 26, 2014 01:34 pm at 1:34 pm |
  7. Mark

    Maybe we shouldn't have invaded and occupied Afghanistan in the first place, no matter how mad we were over 9/11.

    March 26, 2014 01:34 pm at 1:34 pm |
  8. Anonymous

    I bet the current administration hates it when Rumsfeld is right.

    March 26, 2014 01:36 pm at 1:36 pm |
  9. Sam

    I don't like him, but he's right on this one.

    March 26, 2014 01:36 pm at 1:36 pm |
  10. Vijay

    For Iraq at that time Cheney, W, Rumsfeld, Paul Wolfowiz and Collin Powell are terrorists... OBL was a terrorist.
    Terrorists should be given same punishment. period.

    March 26, 2014 01:36 pm at 1:36 pm |
  11. jimmie

    Why is Rumsfeld dissing apes by comparing them to Obama ?

    March 26, 2014 01:37 pm at 1:37 pm |
  12. Silence DoGood

    Rumsfeld commenting on foreign policy is like an organized crime boss bemoaning wide-spread corruption.
    The difference being Rumsfeld is free and the crime boss is likely in jail.

    March 26, 2014 01:37 pm at 1:37 pm |
  13. Tampa Tim

    I think we can safely conclude that republicans are untrainable apes.

    March 26, 2014 01:39 pm at 1:39 pm |
  14. Colo001

    Too funny. But he is correct and Putins reaction to the sanctions and getting kicked put of the G8 are testimony to that

    March 26, 2014 01:39 pm at 1:39 pm |
  15. Tampa Tim

    Rummy sends our troops to war without body armor. That along should get him life in prison.

    March 26, 2014 01:40 pm at 1:40 pm |
  16. patNY

    Karzai was essentially put in power by Rumsfeld and Bush...so if the US is having issues with him, it's Bush's fault. In fact, Obama is being tough, refusing to keep troops in that sand box of a country if Karzai doesn't agree to terms favorable to the US. PS – Russian diplomacy was going down hill ever since Putin came into power in 1999 because of Putin, not the US or any single administration.

    March 26, 2014 01:40 pm at 1:40 pm |
  17. taliasegal

    It doesn't take a genius? Good to know. I wasn't going to call him the biggest moron in history for sending us to Iraq to chase our tails but, hey, his words not mine!

    March 26, 2014 01:41 pm at 1:41 pm |
  18. syawhat

    "Rumsfeld wasn't perfect, but compared to the mishandling of foreign affairs by the Obama administration, he would be a breath of fresh air. "
    Botched capture of Taliban leadership and Osama BinLaden
    Botched bringing Turkey to the crazy Iraq invasion
    Botched capturing/killing Saddam early in the invasion
    Botched keeping the order in Iraq after the fall of the Saddam regime
    Botched response to insurgence

    I can go on and on. Worst Secretary of defense ever. Fresh air? You wan to be in war with Russia, Syria and Iran?

    March 26, 2014 01:41 pm at 1:41 pm |
  19. TONE

    Ragin Cajun

    Criticism of Obama by a white man equals cause to play race card. When are we going to get past this lame play?

    I knew this would have come up (The race card) Republicans are racist i call it as i see it this is no race card this is a racist card.

    March 26, 2014 01:41 pm at 1:41 pm |
  20. Larry L

    Republicans will never learn to limit their racially-motivated comments to the private Tea Party rallies and closed-door meetings of fellow bigots. The handlers have finally stopped them from making political signs of apes made to resemble our President – not a good thing for the party trying to sell their love of diversity during election years.

    March 26, 2014 01:41 pm at 1:41 pm |
  21. Anonymous

    Our foreign policy is a disaster. I'm no Rumsfeld fan but one cannot honestly ignore the obvious. Put party and politics aside and ask yourself, how are handling the Ukraine crisis, EU relations, Iran and China. We are being pushed around and if we do not wake up, China will one day call our bluff and we will not be prepared. Russia just did it on a smaller scale and what did our president do? He held a news conference telling the world, we stand with Ukraine but the US is cutting our military????? Does anyone else see what is going on here?

    March 26, 2014 01:41 pm at 1:41 pm |
  22. tor5

    It's hard to know where to start with such a comment. Let's just say that if Obama is a trained ape, Rumsfeld is an untrained ant. I guess he expects most Americans not to remember anything over 6 years ago. And, well, he's probably right about that.

    March 26, 2014 01:41 pm at 1:41 pm |
  23. SkepticalOne

    Funny how Rumsfeld uses that phrase as an insult when the trained ape is probably smarter than he is.

    March 26, 2014 01:41 pm at 1:41 pm |
  24. Ryan

    When the emperor gets critized pull out the good old race card, works everytime.

    March 26, 2014 01:42 pm at 1:42 pm |
  25. DaveinIL

    The trouble is that most of the liberals in this country are little more than apes trained to vote for Democrats.

    March 26, 2014 01:42 pm at 1:42 pm |
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