Rumsfeld 'trained ape' comment stirs controversy
March 26th, 2014
11:40 AM ET
6 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. ToldUso

    "I don't like the way Obama has cleaned up the mess I helped create."

    – Donny Rumsfeld

    March 26, 2014 12:10 pm at 12:10 pm |
  2. Ken Knerr

    If this administration would stop giving away so much ammo to fire back at them, maybe the other side would have to work harder to find material to joke about. As it is, it's painfully obvious that this administration is the most inept one in history.

    March 26, 2014 12:10 pm at 12:10 pm |
  3. thomas

    He has a lot of nerve lecturing anyone about war!

    March 26, 2014 12:10 pm at 12:10 pm |
  4. Rudy NYC

    Whatever happened to that rule about keeping domestic politics and squabbles domestic? The President is abroad, and suddenly all of the critics come out of the woodwork. Nice people, those Republicans, aren't they?

    March 26, 2014 12:10 pm at 12:10 pm |
  5. ptbarnum

    After all the BS we had to listen to from this joker about the Iraq war I would hope people take what he has to say with a grain of salt.

    March 26, 2014 12:10 pm at 12:10 pm |
  6. jb1963

    This from a guy who started wars based on his own lies?

    March 26, 2014 12:10 pm at 12:10 pm |
  7. Country Above the Parties

    How is this possible a sitting President was impeached by the congress on so-called lying under oath (two adults involved and nobody got hurt) while the gang of Bush/Chaney/Rumsfeld committed a war crime based on lies and made-up facts on Iraq which costed us over 4000 lives and trillion$ (and still counting) are roaming free and criticizing others... we should be ashamed to call ourselves Americans.

    March 26, 2014 12:11 pm at 12:11 pm |
  8. Ken Knerp

    If this administration would stop giving away so much ammo to fire back at them, maybe the other side would have to work harder to find material to joke about. As it is, it's painfully obvious that this administration is the most inept one in history.

    March 26, 2014 12:12 pm at 12:12 pm |
  9. Silence DoGood

    Rumsfeld is lucky he and Bush were not brought up on war crimes charges.
    He has a lot of nerve after taking part in actions that costs 1000's of people their lives for no good reason.

    March 26, 2014 12:12 pm at 12:12 pm |
  10. Dominican mama 4 Obama

    Speaking of trained monkeys, Joi, here's one of the Republican's very best flapping his gums and adding his pound of drool to the political chum bucket...
    Oy vey!

    March 26, 2014 12:12 pm at 12:12 pm |
  11. Gunderson

    Well, Rumsfeld's description of Current Administration isn't exactly News, is it? Kinda like Nero Fiddled, Rome burns. Titanic Sails, (Obama Administration) fails. (Obama) Care Web Site ready to go 1 October 2013. Here now nearly 6 Months later, More and more and more Delay. BUT, some STILL defend the undefensible. Hey, it's your nickle, spend it any way you want to. Hope you have a good retirement plan.

    March 26, 2014 12:13 pm at 12:13 pm |
  12. Pete

    Rumsfield should be in jail for his role in Reagans Iran contra scandal being caught with the CIA as middleman selling weapons when congress,senate objected to it in the "80s..But that's republicans turning a blind eye to traitors being cut from the same cloth ,right!!!Rumsfields irrelevant and as the Bushs should be treated that way...

    March 26, 2014 12:13 pm at 12:13 pm |
  13. tdhawkes

    The Bush and Obama administrations have very different approaches to diplomacy. Since most of it happens behind the scenes, it is hard to determine what is actually going on. Therefore it is hard to critique either side effectively.

    March 26, 2014 12:14 pm at 12:14 pm |
  14. Mark

    Funny to read the comments here by the diehard Obama fans. Can't admit failure even when it is staring them in the face.

    March 26, 2014 12:15 pm at 12:15 pm |
  15. 1776usa2016

    Racist much there Rummy?

    Maybe you can show again how to attack the wrong country.

    .

    March 26, 2014 12:16 pm at 12:16 pm |
  16. ashton

    Everyone is now too sensitive to remarks made about anything or anyone. I once read a quote- the truth is a bully we all pretend to like- The fact is- the current administration's foreign policies are in a mess- period. If you like it, you can keep it- period. Regarding he comment about the "ape"- if the shoe fits- so be it- period.

    March 26, 2014 12:16 pm at 12:16 pm |
  17. MPA

    LOL@ the would be McNamara left office in disgrace. Now he rears his head from under his rock to both insult the Presidency and resort back to implying we should have used military force to make all of those he mentioned comply.

    March 26, 2014 12:18 pm at 12:18 pm |
  18. JAB

    Obama has to clean up the mess and you shout "Hey you missed a spot"?
    Great! Thanks Captain Hindsight. Now go back to remaining irrelevant.

    March 26, 2014 12:20 pm at 12:20 pm |
  19. The Republican Party Is Dead To Me

    No one cares what this war criminal thinks, says or believes. He's yesterdays news, and I wish the media would recognize this fact. He's lucky not to be jailed for his participation in Bush's folly.

    March 26, 2014 12:20 pm at 12:20 pm |
  20. Rudy NYC

    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.
    ----------------------------–
    Offensive and unapologetic. He just goes from bad to worse. Why do folks vote for these hateful people? Do they have something in common that they identify with? Must be.

    March 26, 2014 12:21 pm at 12:21 pm |
  21. FrankinSD

    This man should be facing a war crimes tribunal. Why does the media continue to promote his insane musings and give him a stage to vent his obvious racism?

    March 26, 2014 12:21 pm at 12:21 pm |
  22. GrogInOhio

    Why isn't Donald Rumsfeld serving time for war crimes?

    March 26, 2014 12:21 pm at 12:21 pm |
  23. the one true god

    Don't invade Iraq without a compelling, non-Freudian reason? A trained ape would know better than that.

    March 26, 2014 12:21 pm at 12:21 pm |
  24. Pete

    @Silence Do Good,the Bushs as Rumsfield can't travel because if caught by Interpol they'd face the ICC at the Hague,Netherlands..Yes ,over 100 countrys have signed warrents for Bushs, Rumsfields arrest for the lies and war in Iraq that killed thousands for just greed..Hey Silence ask Bushs,Rumsfield what happened to all the money sent over there to Iraq that disappeared ,just a few hundred million if I remember right that was never found...

    March 26, 2014 12:21 pm at 12:21 pm |
  25. SOUTHERN HOTTIE

    Well, he would know what a trained ape is. He was one for the Bush-43 administration.

    March 26, 2014 12:21 pm at 12:21 pm |
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