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. DC Observer

    Non story here - but good for partisan bickering and blogging advocates .... ZZZZZZZZZZZZ

    March 26, 2014 02:06 pm at 2:06 pm |
  2. LeeCMH

    Recall the picture of Rummy meeting with Sadam Hussein taken about a decade or so before the war? Diplomacy?

    March 26, 2014 02:07 pm at 2:07 pm |
  3. ape

    We are all apes, hairless apes. Words only insult when, at some deep level, let them. Rummy made a mess out of Iraq and Afgan issues, but this is not a comment that was directed toward the Whitehouse. Point your anger in the correct direction folks, this is a tempest in a tea cup.

    March 26, 2014 02:07 pm at 2:07 pm |
  4. Steve

    and who takes Fox news interviewing a war criminal seriously?

    March 26, 2014 02:07 pm at 2:07 pm |
  5. gbmiami

    Liberals can't win arguments, which is why they are the party of racism, keep it alive and well, and resort to petty, childish insults when they realize they are full of crap.

    March 26, 2014 02:07 pm at 2:07 pm |
  6. unknown11

    If the truth hurts, feign offense and anything that could somehow be misconstrued to be a racial comment. We could call that Liberal Play Number One.

    March 26, 2014 02:07 pm at 2:07 pm |
  7. De Odorizer

    Oh, thaaat Donald the duck Dumsfeld. The guy with the known knowns and the unknown unknowns.
    The worst secretary of offense this country has seen in a long time.
    That guy, yes, of course. Folks, listen up, Rummy has had another brain fart...

    March 26, 2014 02:08 pm at 2:08 pm |
  8. Anonymous

    Rumsfeld and Bush left this country warring in Afghanistan for over 10yrs and all he can do is blame the black guy....

    March 26, 2014 02:08 pm at 2:08 pm |
  9. Rob

    The race baiters are freaking out....how shocking.

    March 26, 2014 02:09 pm at 2:09 pm |
  10. FG

    Sounds as if Rumsfelds new heart is as frustrated and vindictive as the one he had removed. There's just no pleasing some people.

    March 26, 2014 02:09 pm at 2:09 pm |
  11. Scott Independent

    yet another one of the people that most everybody wishes would simply go away

    March 26, 2014 02:09 pm at 2:09 pm |
  12. ShawnDH

    Why isn't this WAR CRIMINAL in prison? He is an EPIC FAIl and is in no position to judge anybody else's performance, ever, in perpetuity throughout the universe. But I'd like to thank him for reminding us to never trust Republicans ever again with US foreign policy.

    March 26, 2014 02:10 pm at 2:10 pm |
  13. ILREDNK

    @ Larry L
    Really? Racism or race baiting from the right-wing? Wow! That's profound. You must only watch one channel. If you are truly interested in race relations, race baiting and racist comments, you need to get out of your bubble you've created for yourself. Take a look at the NAACP. They can openly call a black congressman an Uncle Tom and get away with it. Any white professional that has a mouthpiece would be buried so deep they'd never recover for making a comment like that. Liberals can accuse conservatives of being slave owners or at the very least comparing them to slave owners. If any conservative made the opposite comparison, they too would be buried so deep, there would be no return. The conservatives would be facing death threats. When do we, as a people, wake up and see the truth for what it is?

    March 26, 2014 02:10 pm at 2:10 pm |
  14. sly

    Rumsfield is a war criminal, with 500,000 dead civilians to his name.

    This man should be executed.

    March 26, 2014 02:12 pm at 2:12 pm |
  15. asdrel

    "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." "

    So, was he referring specifically to the President at that time?
    I doubt if he was using that term in a racial sense, but it is still very disrespectful. I would think that a person of his formar standing could use less juvenial terms to express himself.

    March 26, 2014 02:12 pm at 2:12 pm |
  16. Nat

    Libs will use any excuse to find fault, and claim insult and prejudice against their saviour, Obama.

    March 26, 2014 02:13 pm at 2:13 pm |
  17. volsocal

    Those seeking to construe a direct comparison in Rumsfeld's comment should apologize for him to apes everywhere, trained or not.

    March 26, 2014 02:13 pm at 2:13 pm |
  18. Voiceinthewind

    He belongs in prison and should not be free on the streets of America. Put this greedy thief in prison where he belongs.

    March 26, 2014 02:13 pm at 2:13 pm |
  19. taxedmore

    Of course it's all Bush's fault.

    March 26, 2014 02:13 pm at 2:13 pm |
  20. sonny chapman

    Wasn't Rummy FIRED the day after W. won Reelection? Sorry about all those State National Guardsmen who got the surprise of their lives when they found themselves on a plane to Iraq, under-trained & ill equipped. You know how it goes, "Gotta go to War w/the Army you got. Make up the rest as you go.".

    March 26, 2014 02:13 pm at 2:13 pm |
  21. bing de la vega

    Let us not accept his excuse that he Pres. Obama was not in his mind when he was referring to a " trained ape ". Obam was on his mind. Rumsfield was born arrogant. He refused to return Condy Rice's call ( another black person ) while they were serving the former president until Bush told him to. His brain is full of "unknowns" and he is "known" to be an "unknown" .

    March 26, 2014 02:13 pm at 2:13 pm |
  22. Al

    I can not decide if Cheney or this fool did more damage to this country. What I am sure about is that we are so very much better off that they are now just jesters yelling from the back of the crowd.

    March 26, 2014 02:13 pm at 2:13 pm |
  23. USAF 30-Yr Veteran

    Pat Tillman – National hero

    Rumsfeld – Lying dog with Pat's blood on his hands.

    March 26, 2014 02:15 pm at 2:15 pm |
  24. Coffee Party

    This guy is should be happy he's not in jail for war crimes

    March 26, 2014 02:15 pm at 2:15 pm |
  25. cliffintex

    Poor choice of words, but he is correct. This administration has woefully mismanaged international relations. President Obama absolutely believes that personal discussions will lead to mutual understanding and agreement. He may have been a good community activist, but he was a poor State Senator, worse US Senator and the worst President to date. All of the folks that will post 'hate' comments on this will be correct about one thing...it is skin color because if he'd have been white he wouldn't have even been considered for the democrat nominee. Another thing for you youngsters to remember, the vernacular has changed; when Rumsfeld was young, 'gay' meant happy and trained ape had no racial connotations.

    March 26, 2014 02:15 pm at 2:15 pm |
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