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. Mark J

    It's like Hitler criticizing another country's position on human rights... a lot more of these guys should just quietly retire and shut up....

    March 26, 2014 02:16 pm at 2:16 pm |
  2. Scott Cisney

    The last 60 years have seen a slew of Soviet (now Russian) actions that the US did NOT want the Russians to take (Invasion of Afghanistan, Crushing dissidents in Eastern Europe, Invasion of Georgia–under former President Bush). We do NOT control Russia's actions. Each US president has responded to these actions in ways meant to deter or dissuade Russia from taking further unpopular actions. But we have never gone to war with Russia–for good reason, it would be a war with nuclear weapons. This action was going to take place whether Mitt Romney were in the Oval Office or Barak Obama.

    Additionally...does this Rumsfeld guy have any credibility at all???? He was neck deep in the deception that led to the invasion of Iraq–a mistaken war!!! Many experts consider that the single biggest foreign policy blunder in US history!

    March 26, 2014 02:16 pm at 2:16 pm |
  3. SnakePlissken

    Rumsfeld is an old school type who still thinks the USA needs good relationships (of a specific, self-serving-type) with everyone around the world, and has yet to realize that MOST Americans really don't give an X about all those people over there who have been taking their jobs away, or the global merchants and their global police who have aided and abetted in that process. So, it may not be an incapability of the current administration, but, an on purpose lack of unnecessary and undesirable and unnafordable effort. Of course, the Rummy-Types still think they rule the world, and have a right to, even in the face of $20 trillion of debt as proof-positive of their absolute, utter, complete and total failure to sustain the USA that was given to them.

    March 26, 2014 02:16 pm at 2:16 pm |
  4. David F.

    Memories are short, but we still recall Iraq. What was the deal, we would be out in four months and it would cost 2 billion dollars. Oh that Rumsfeld what a joker! I want him running our foreign policy, yeah right.

    March 26, 2014 02:16 pm at 2:16 pm |
  5. Scott

    YOU go Donnie, tell it like it is. Our current President is a buffon.

    March 26, 2014 02:17 pm at 2:17 pm |
  6. Bob

    Donald should know. He is, after all, a trained ape.

    March 26, 2014 02:17 pm at 2:17 pm |
  7. Syd

    Did of any of you actually read the whole story? Your droning on and on about right wing racists, when the story makes the point he has been using that same stupid phrase dating back to 2002. Just because you want all Republicans to be racist, does not make it so.

    March 26, 2014 02:17 pm at 2:17 pm |
  8. 866bway

    Not racist, just idiotic. Like Michael Jackson-offering-parenting-advice idiotic.

    March 26, 2014 02:17 pm at 2:17 pm |
  9. steve

    He is right as always. Obama has been a failure and a joke of a president.

    March 26, 2014 02:17 pm at 2:17 pm |
  10. judith

    This comment from the man who predicted the unnecessary Iraq War would last 6 weeks, or at the most, 6 months. He and the vile Bush and Cheney committed the worst military blunder in modern history and he dares criticize Obama. He's a war criminal and an evil old man.

    March 26, 2014 02:18 pm at 2:18 pm |
  11. LDH2O

    And this from the man who critized our staunch allies as "Old Europe" when he did not get their support for Iraq. I guess a trained ape could do better than him also.

    March 26, 2014 02:18 pm at 2:18 pm |
  12. gbmiami

    Rumsfeld is a zionist war criminal, who should be in a jail cell. If he was tried in 1945, they would have hanged him.

    But what angers me here, are the Liberal race baiters and idiots crawling out of the woodwork, trying to find proof of racism in Rumsfeld comments. But there are none. So they have to make some up.

    March 26, 2014 02:18 pm at 2:18 pm |
  13. Hogan's Goat

    I wonder which one of their pundits has them all saying "Obama bows to the king! He's ineffectual! Appeasement!" today? Because two days ago it was "Obama is a dictator who controls everything! His tentacles reach every country!" They are a bunch of hysterical nannygoats, if you like animal analogies.

    March 26, 2014 02:18 pm at 2:18 pm |
  14. concernedcitizen

    Says the war criminal Rumsfield. He should be on trial. Weapons of Mass Destruction. All those lives lost for what?

    March 26, 2014 02:18 pm at 2:18 pm |
  15. Ted

    Typical of the Liberals in the US. When you don't have an arguement, claim racism.....they've done it a thousand times and the press just eats it up

    March 26, 2014 02:18 pm at 2:18 pm |
  16. Tess

    I am so glad I am not an American. This war criminal, Rumsfled, is a senile syphilitic cretin. Not to mention he always did hide his weakness and fears behind his "calls for war". To use such language to describe a sitting leader of the so-called "exceptional" USA is both ironic and offensive. The extremism views of the Right and its members who espouse fantastical theories on science, exhibit a pathetic on your knees adoration for the NRA and all things "shoot em up"; their fervent support of capital punishment and desire to limit women's' rights put them in the same category as a few other nations – namely Iran and China – those very countries they condemn. Nothing, nothing exceptional about a country who claim such fellows..ahem...clowns as Rumsfeld as "leaders ". Watching American "news" is like watching Rome burn.

    March 26, 2014 02:18 pm at 2:18 pm |
  17. mkjp

    If even a trained ape knew Iraq had WMDs, why couldn't the Bush administration find them?

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

    Liberals stop accusing everyone and their sister of racism. It's getting so old.

    March 26, 2014 02:18 pm at 2:18 pm |
  19. Ryan

    What a joke and what a pity! This guy should be in prison for what he did. US arm twisted Haque to drop off the charges against Bush, Dummy and I dont remember the other guy (better to forget). They created all the mess, started war anywhere possible, lost several lives – none of their family members lost anyway, destroyed trillions of $ and the guy is coming and advicing. He should be in hiding for what he did. Why is there no accountability for such behavior? Is there any law that provides these guys immunity against the horror these law makers commit?

    March 26, 2014 02:20 pm at 2:20 pm |
  20. Grego

    King Obama fails at foreign policy on a daily basis.

    March 26, 2014 02:21 pm at 2:21 pm |
  21. Joe

    Shrub at least has sense enough to keep largely quiet about what took place during his time at the helm. Rummy? Not so much. Can we offer you an all-expense paid prolonged vacation at the Hague Rummy? I'll chip in to fly you there

    March 26, 2014 02:21 pm at 2:21 pm |
  22. Obvious

    BREAKING NEWS: PC word cops ban the word "ape".

    March 26, 2014 02:22 pm at 2:22 pm |
  23. FajitaBob

    Great–let's turn this into something it's not.

    March 26, 2014 02:23 pm at 2:23 pm |
  24. scarf

    In the interview with Fox, he said: "Our relationship with Karzai and with Afghanistan was absolutely first rate in the Bush administration."

    Not exactly something worth bragging about........

    March 26, 2014 02:23 pm at 2:23 pm |
  25. trross1200

    A trained ape probably wouldn;t have invaded Iraq, either

    March 26, 2014 02:24 pm at 2:24 pm |
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