Rumsfeld 'trained ape' comment stirs controversy
March 26th, 2014
11:40 AM ET
7 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. sammy zoso

    Glad to see so many voices of reason on CNN. Rumsfeld would be wise to keep his mouth shut when it comes to foreign policy. He, Bush and Cheney did more damage to this country than seems possible. Liars and criminals with blood on their hands. The Three Killer Stooges should be in jail for what they did.

    March 26, 2014 01:50 pm at 1:50 pm |
  2. Irrational Exuberance

    "many took his "ape" comment as an offensive reference to the President's race."

    Of course they have, they have been well-trained to bleet on command. Someone criticizes the President, or his administration, simply chalk it up to racism.

    Because as we all know, before President Obama came along we were a one-party nation who marched in lockstep with one another on domestic and foreign issues.

    March 26, 2014 01:51 pm at 1:51 pm |
  3. darknesscrown

    ...Says one of the guys responsible for starting the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. That's like tearing up a kitchen and then beating your wife for putting stuff back in the wrong place. Why does anyone listen to anyone from the Bush Administration about foreign policy? They are the sole reason for a lot of this.

    March 26, 2014 01:51 pm at 1:51 pm |
  4. kwaldenwood

    Look at Rumsfeld and see evil. Naw, look at Dick Cheney and Paul Wolfowitz along with Rummy and you see evil. These 3 should indeed be in jail for crimes again humanity.

    March 26, 2014 01:51 pm at 1:51 pm |
  5. GODZILLA1

    Now, now – everyone remember for whom he worked – it was "Shrub" and that explains everything about Rummy.

    March 26, 2014 01:52 pm at 1:52 pm |
  6. New york

    Yeah and what was the result of that?!

    March 26, 2014 01:52 pm at 1:52 pm |
  7. Johnny 5

    We are all african apes by definition or Hominoidea as a formal category, and includes not just us, but everything that’s recognized as an ape by biologists. Put a dunce cap on Rumsfeld and place him in a corner.

    March 26, 2014 01:52 pm at 1:52 pm |
  8. John Chadds ford Pa.

    Snake Oil Salesman !

    March 26, 2014 01:52 pm at 1:52 pm |
  9. Jason

    Bumsfeld is a war criminal who should have been tried for treason.

    March 26, 2014 01:53 pm at 1:53 pm |
  10. Vivian

    A trained ape could have handled 9/11, Iraq, and Afghanistan better than that hypocrite did. The bodies, the suffering, the pilfering is an abject disgrace. He has a lot of nerve saying anything about diplomacy, he knows nothing of it, obviously.

    March 26, 2014 01:53 pm at 1:53 pm |
  11. ted

    the language or a murderer and terrorist himself. he should be in jail for what he did. moron

    March 26, 2014 01:54 pm at 1:54 pm |
  12. zigozigo

    If the floor isn't littered with limbs of our soldiers, Rummy is not happy!

    March 26, 2014 01:54 pm at 1:54 pm |
  13. Rumsfeld_is_a_loser

    OMG! That is too funny!
    A man whose total ignorance help lead the nation down a path of near destruction talking about Obama (who brought the nation back from the brink of the disaster created by Rumsfeld, Bush and their cohorts...). Rummy has mistaken arrogance for intelligence. Arrogance he has – intelligence he has not!

    March 26, 2014 01:54 pm at 1:54 pm |
  14. Mr. Balls

    Rumsfeld makes Putin look good.

    March 26, 2014 01:55 pm at 1:55 pm |
  15. gladiatorgrl

    Rumsfeld – ARMS SADAAM under Reagan

    WARS AGAINST Sadaam later –

    MIC PROFITS FOR DECADES

    he's got some nerve!!!! How many DEAD AND MAIMED for HIS FAILED POLICIES AND ACTIONS???

    March 26, 2014 01:55 pm at 1:55 pm |
  16. DJ Reality

    Boy, talk about a trained ape Rumsfeld should know. He is the head chimp.

    March 26, 2014 01:55 pm at 1:55 pm |
  17. zigozigo

    Is the trained ape a reference to Reagan?

    March 26, 2014 01:56 pm at 1:56 pm |
  18. Larry

    Well, since all conservatives are racist swine, and since the liberals are the only enlightened ones, why do any of you liberals bother reading about conservatives?

    Oh, yeah, it's so you can show your enlightened, caring nature by posting vile, hate-filled comments! I get it now.

    March 26, 2014 01:56 pm at 1:56 pm |
  19. Kevin Gallaher

    Karzai turned against the U.S. stopped feeding him the unaccounted for billions of dollars that Rumsfeld so generously provided Karzai and his thuggish cronies.

    March 26, 2014 01:56 pm at 1:56 pm |
  20. herchato

    One can always count on fox to put the right wing geniuses on air for us all to watch and admire. This Donald is so brilliant that today, because of the great job he did as secretary of defense, he could become the first to be arrested for war crimes if he decides to go traveling in Europe.

    March 26, 2014 01:57 pm at 1:57 pm |
  21. Mike

    Rumsfeld criticizing anyone for diplomatic failings is a complete joke. He conducted (an initiated the Iraq war) with the skill of an UNtrained ape.

    March 26, 2014 01:57 pm at 1:57 pm |
  22. la Kram du jour

    Rummy is a traitor by providing comfort to the enemy with his unwarranted criticism of our President. You best believe all the enemies he and Little boots created are now slap happy that he is saying the same things they are. Well why don't he just go to Russia or Afghanistan and criticize the American president right along with those enemies of the state. Oh YEAH!!! that's right – HE CAN'T BECAUSE HE IS A WAR CRIMINAL! Responsible for the deaths of a half million people – real people with mothers, sisters, brothers and fathers, sons and daughters. But that's just fine with him because he is the devil with no soul. Evil being like Rummy, little boots, Wolfowitz, condi rice and all them will burn in hell for what they did.

    March 26, 2014 01:58 pm at 1:58 pm |
  23. Grady

    it's an interview on fox news...Rumsfeld spews bile and fox laps it up like milk...

    March 26, 2014 01:58 pm at 1:58 pm |
  24. WillB

    Don't forget that when Rumsfeld had to fill the Head of the Army position at the Pentagon every General he offered the job to turned it down because they thought that working with Rumsfled would be like working with a trained ape. That's a fact (being turned down) that was even in the Pentagon's Press Releases.

    March 26, 2014 01:58 pm at 1:58 pm |
  25. james reed

    The repubs bring out the attack dogs, ho-hum. Your relationship with Hamid Karzai was so good, he kept playing you along until he realized he couldn't get more out of you, and then abandoned the charade. There is no honor among thieves.

    March 26, 2014 01:58 pm at 1:58 pm |
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