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. rs

    Deserttrek

    so the probama folks are all upset that a person with more experience is critical of little barry ... wah wah wah
    nothing racist about the truth
    _________________
    Experience?
    Two unnecessary wars (one with the wrong country; 125,000 dead civilians, 2 million refugees; $2.5 trillion wasted; 7,000 Americans killed, 40,000 wounded; no WMDs.

    Just what "experience" are you referring to? Unbridled idiocy perhaps?

    March 26, 2014 02:34 pm at 2:34 pm |
  2. DasCapitan

    What an affront to trained apes everywhere ! The race baiters will sure try to use this to steer the public's attention away from the next disaster perpetrated by the Obama Administration.

    March 26, 2014 02:34 pm at 2:34 pm |
  3. Peyamb

    Why is this guy still free and not in front of an international court for war crimes?

    March 26, 2014 02:35 pm at 2:35 pm |
  4. Chris V

    This guy is a war criminal and a murderer!

    March 26, 2014 02:35 pm at 2:35 pm |
  5. EngrScott

    I am really tired of people immediately labling any criticism of the president or his administration as "racist". That said, how about this "a trained rodent could do a better job at foreign policy than the current administration". Just as accurate and no possible perceived race connotation.

    March 26, 2014 02:36 pm at 2:36 pm |
  6. RJMA

    Type "Bush Monkey" into Google Images and get back to me. We don't need to walk on eggshells just because Obama is black. We get it. Slavery happened. Time to move on.

    March 26, 2014 02:36 pm at 2:36 pm |
  7. Randall

    Like Bush and Cheney, Rumsfeld is a recklessly inept war criminal, responsible for the senseless deaths of countless soldiers and citizens in Iraq, and as such, he should be in a federal prison somewhere. He has ZERO credibility and ZERO room to talk about others.

    March 26, 2014 02:36 pm at 2:36 pm |
  8. Wake Up People! Many Rivers to cross.....

    And you should be in prison right now. More racism from the Right.

    March 26, 2014 02:36 pm at 2:36 pm |
  9. rs

    Roger Huguez

    This is so simple, as far as I'm concerned. What, with the recent comments from Romney, the ever so often tongue wagging from Cheney and now this buffoon. What we have here are failures and losers with guilty consciences. Simple as that. Wouldn't it be nice if they would all just go back to the holes they crawled out of? Give 'em something to chew on.
    ____________________
    The Right has no conscience- that's why they just want to keep doing to America what they have done since Reagan- destroy the place, and impoverish it's citizens.

    March 26, 2014 02:37 pm at 2:37 pm |
  10. Erik

    Wow so Rumsfeld thinks its understandable for Afghanistan to side with Russia? Who's side is this guy on anyway? Remember all of that old Europe stuff? Maybe Rumsfeld should move to Russia since he sympathizes with them over the United States and our long term traditional allies. I am glad these guys are out we have had nothing but problems to show for their tenure in the White House.

    March 26, 2014 02:37 pm at 2:37 pm |
  11. Erik

    Wow so Rums feld thinks its understandable for Afgh anistan to side with Russia? Who's side is this guy on anyway? Remember all of that old Europe stuff? Maybe Rums feld should move to Russia since he sympathizes with them over the United States and our long term traditional allies. I am glad these guys are out we have had nothing but problems to show for their tenure in the White House.

    March 26, 2014 02:38 pm at 2:38 pm |
  12. CMAC

    A man that was wrong on Iraq WMDs, authorized war crimes (torture and water-boarding), severely harmed our relationship with France, and bungled the democratic transition in Iraq so badly it gave rise to a whole new group of Arab extremists really has no place calling anyone else's performance "trained ape" level.

    This man was the dumbest person in any group they placed him. His family, pedigree, and allies are the only reason he has ever had any power.

    March 26, 2014 02:39 pm at 2:39 pm |
  13. azsewlady

    It is sad that he does not have the same class his former boss has shown since he is no longer President . Although I was not a Bush fan I admire how he has chosen to not speak out on issues since leaving office. I am certain that he has opinions, but he seems to live by the saying that "some" of us were raised by "If you don't have something nice to say , don't say anything". Rumsfeld, Liberals ,the Tea Party and Republicans need to all remember that. Compromise, discussion and trying to consider the other sides point of view no longer seem to be a point of consideration at all in our society. So sad!

    March 26, 2014 02:39 pm at 2:39 pm |
  14. magicpanties

    He should be in jail for war crimes (along with Bush and Cheney).

    March 26, 2014 02:40 pm at 2:40 pm |
  15. Craig

    Can't take that war criminal seriously..

    March 26, 2014 02:40 pm at 2:40 pm |
  16. Jackson

    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."

    ___________

    And our relationship with MANY countries was lessened by Bush's actions in Iraq.

    But, they, why let anything as mundane as the truth get in the way of this idiot's stale talking points.

    March 26, 2014 02:40 pm at 2:40 pm |
  17. Erik

    This guy sympathizes with Russia and mocks , "old Europe" our traditional allies. It makes you wonder what side he is on.

    March 26, 2014 02:40 pm at 2:40 pm |
  18. Matt Houston

    Yes, Donald...because Lord knows you guys did such a bang up job when you were in power...

    March 26, 2014 02:40 pm at 2:40 pm |
  19. Richard

    DJS and I'm sure he was specifically targeting President Obama. Rummy and his ilk destroyed our foreign policy and he has the balls to crawl from under the rock he, Cheney, and bush have been hiding under.

    March 26, 2014 02:41 pm at 2:41 pm |
  20. Erik

    This guy sympathizes with Russia and talks about , "old Europe" our traditional allies. It makes you wonder what side he is on.

    March 26, 2014 02:41 pm at 2:41 pm |
  21. mwelsh1977

    I hate Donald Rumsfeld. Trained apes would have at least listened to their generals before invading a country. But there is nothing to the outrage of his use of the phrase here. Non-news.

    March 26, 2014 02:41 pm at 2:41 pm |
  22. Erik

    My last 4 comments basically calling Rumsfeld a traitor have been flagged for moderation.

    March 26, 2014 02:41 pm at 2:41 pm |
  23. rs

    Ancient Texan

    Much ado about nothing. There's always some 'PC police' searching every comment, looking for something to point at and scream about racism, or disrespect, or some other imagined "sin".
    _______________________________
    So, you'd be cool getting called a "trained ape" then, right?

    March 26, 2014 02:42 pm at 2:42 pm |
  24. hottpoker

    A trained ape could do a better job?. I don't think Rummy could do a better job than Obama, if he's asking for another chance. He and W already tried and failed.

    March 26, 2014 02:42 pm at 2:42 pm |
  25. Fitz Matush

    2004 when questioned by the foot soldiers as to why they didn't have decent armor on their Humvees, quote, "Now settle down, settle down. Hell, I'm an old man, It's early in the morning and I'm gathering my thoughts here". Ah, a page right outta' frat boy W's book. Followed by the brilliant, "You go to war with the army you have, not the army you want or wish to have at a later time". Thanks Don, I'm sure the fellows filling your and your cronies pockets felt so much better.

    March 26, 2014 02:42 pm at 2:42 pm |
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