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. Jack Cordial

    From a strictly scientific viewpoint, he's not wrong. Humans, as much as some of us vehemently deny the fact, ARE apes, so, really, he's not incorrect. A trained ape, of which a professional or semi-professional human is one, could do it.

    March 26, 2014 02:54 pm at 2:54 pm |
  2. Beez

    Why would Obama, or any legitimate government, really want the incredibly corrupt Karzai as a friend? Apparently Rumsfield sees drug trafficking and bribe taking in as big business in that part of the world and just feels more comfortable with that type a person as a card-carrying Republican.

    March 26, 2014 02:55 pm at 2:55 pm |
  3. codemanx

    Seriously? At what point do we realize the racists are the ones that try to find something racist out of every expression and accuse others of being racists?

    March 26, 2014 02:55 pm at 2:55 pm |
  4. Proud Obama Supporter

    Well looking at Donald he looks more like an Ape than most Apes. The trained ones he is referring to sounds more educated than he. Stop hating and go back and sit in your little corner in the jungle!

    March 26, 2014 02:55 pm at 2:55 pm |
  5. Jack Cordial

    That actually may be the first time in my life I've ever defended Donald Rumsfeld. I'm going to sit in the corner and think about what I've done, now.

    March 26, 2014 02:56 pm at 2:56 pm |
  6. Citizen

    Rumsfield's Ape didnt do so well either. Sorry the Gog/Magog thing didn't work out for his boss.

    March 26, 2014 02:57 pm at 2:57 pm |
  7. Tom

    Does anyone care what Rumsfeld says/does? Rummy was dismissed years ago but is attempting to upgrade the negative opinion the American people have of him. This has absolutely nothing to do with racism but rather an older man's desire to remain relevant.

    March 26, 2014 02:57 pm at 2:57 pm |
  8. 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 02:57 pm at 2:57 pm |
  9. sly

    Typical Republican racist war criminal.

    Someone should take Rumsfield out in a field and put him out of his misery.

    March 26, 2014 02:57 pm at 2:57 pm |
  10. Bedgar

    He was not referring directly to Obama because Obama is not 'trained'

    March 26, 2014 02:58 pm at 2:58 pm |
  11. rufus leroy

    the fact that an ape and Obama look striking alike should be offensive to all, not just Jessie and Al.

    March 26, 2014 02:58 pm at 2:58 pm |
  12. Republiker

    Here's another chance for the Democrats to pull out their stale, abused and now ignored, race card. You all must be so proud.

    March 26, 2014 02:58 pm at 2:58 pm |
  13. Ken Margo

    CMAC..................You said it all. No need to add anything. Thank you.

    March 26, 2014 02:58 pm at 2:58 pm |
  14. Pablo695

    Hmmm. I guess Rummy is forgetting that he and Litl; Shrub (aka Bush II the Loser) could not close a Status of Forces agreement with Iraq or Afghanistan when they were in control. That they both looked the other way when Putin made his first move, taking Georgia, without so much as a peep. That their foreign policy blunders have hurt the USA for the next 20 years, not to mention adding trillions in debt for wars that were not warranted or legal.

    Two thoughts – The GOP talks about giving countries democracy, then whine when the elected governments won't act as "trained apps" and do what ever the US says. I applaud them for be true to the country – Iraq in particular made it quite clear that after 9 years of illegal war and occupation by the USA, of countless innocent civilians killed and the destruction of the infrastructure that they wanted no part of a SOF agreement. Don't blame them one bit.

    Second, trained apes that criticize others for the very same things THEY COULD NOT ACCOMPLISH should not be throwing rocks; least them find themselves throwing rocks at the mirror. Of course, Rumsfeld was never the sharpest tool in shed. Rummy does confirm the old adage that "ignorance is bliss"....

    March 26, 2014 02:59 pm at 2:59 pm |
  15. vincent

    Thats a funny comment coming from a mass murderer, guilty of crimes against humanity.
    Why hasn't the I.C.C. put this animal in a cage already?

    GWb AND HIS entire cabinet should be tried for the crimes they committed during the invasion Of Iraq

    March 26, 2014 02:59 pm at 2:59 pm |
  16. Member of MENSA

    Actually it doesn't take a genius to realize that only a bunch of untrained apes could think there were WMD in Iraq.

    March 26, 2014 03:01 pm at 3:01 pm |
  17. grafyter

    The only place that Cheney or Rumsfled have a voice is on the Faux news Entertainment network...that should tell you all you need to know about them.

    March 26, 2014 03:01 pm at 3:01 pm |
  18. Kenneth Newman

    Don Rumsfeld was and continues to be an embarrassment to American diplomacy, stupidity, and to the arrogance of the Pentagon. He was on the failed side of American intelligence that lead to 9/11/01.

    Where are the weapons of mass destruction, that so scared the Bush Administration??? Rumsfeld NEVER had a clue, just like his buddy, Dick Cheney.

    March 26, 2014 03:01 pm at 3:01 pm |
  19. Adam Smith

    Repugs, as usual, with their hatred, racism, and vitriol – Blacks commit all crimes, gay people are plaguebearers, and Dem president is a trained ape. These people have no respect whatsoever for anyone except their own.

    March 26, 2014 03:01 pm at 3:01 pm |
  20. codemanx

    "He said trained ape and the President is black, so obviously the first thing I think is that it's a racist remark against Obama" – says the one who is the actual racist.

    March 26, 2014 03:01 pm at 3:01 pm |
  21. Hadenuffyet

    Really Don? I had the distinct impression that the world , in general , hated our guts during your tenure. Freedom fries with that Don? pffffttt....

    March 26, 2014 03:02 pm at 3:02 pm |
  22. JFS3

    Come on people - grow up. We have Secret Service agents passed out in Amsterdam hotels...but God forbid you claim someone is acting like an ape.

    March 26, 2014 03:03 pm at 3:03 pm |
  23. marvalea

    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,". I don't consider Obama's refusal to subject American soldiers to Iraqi criminal law a "failure". Neither do I regard alienation of Karzai a "failure" ... the man has repeatedly made a mockery of the loss of our soldiers' blood and secretly negotiated with Iran – while DEMANDING that our CIA continue delivering bags of taxpayers' cash!? I wholeheartedly approve any and all diplomacy intended to avoid sending our young men and women to die on foreign ground.

    March 26, 2014 03:03 pm at 3:03 pm |
  24. jhughes

    This from Donald "shock and awe" Rumsfeld. So much for his predictions.

    March 26, 2014 03:03 pm at 3:03 pm |
  25. Bemish

    As someone who works in Afghanistan and follows developments closely, and noting that the Council of Elders approved the SOFA, my observation is that the Administration was wildly successful in managing the relationship with the Real Afghanistan. It was the selection of Karzai, some years ago, that is the issue. For a "smart" man, Rumsfeld shows little insight or understanding of nuance. Maybe it's just a political thing.

    March 26, 2014 03:03 pm at 3:03 pm |
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