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. EarlGrayHot

    Rumsfeld was aways an idiot.

    March 26, 2014 03:31 pm at 3:31 pm |
  2. kurt

    It's hard for me to believe that Rumsfeld has the nerve to show his face in public, let alone open his mouth, let alone comment on policy, let alone compare Obama to an ape. The man has no sense of shame.

    He should count his blessings and his lucky stars that he's not swing from a rope for all his war crimes.

    March 26, 2014 03:31 pm at 3:31 pm |
  3. mojoquasi

    Of course Rumsfeld didn't mean Obama. And we're all a bunch of idiots. At least Rumsfeld believes we are. The arrogance of this guy is colossal.

    March 26, 2014 03:32 pm at 3:32 pm |
  4. Michael

    Rumsfeld is irrelevant.

    March 26, 2014 03:33 pm at 3:33 pm |
  5. buckcameron

    Rumsfeld suffers from the fatal flaw which he himself identified. He does not know what he does not know (and he does not know that he does not know this!. No one with any knowledge of history would pay any attention to this failure.

    March 26, 2014 03:34 pm at 3:34 pm |
  6. jimbo

    This from a man who has the mentality of less than an ape!

    March 26, 2014 03:34 pm at 3:34 pm |
  7. Brian

    Would you really expect anything but a stupid remark like that from "armchair" quarterback Rumsfeld? Like many conservatives, he is a good example of "coulda, woulda, shoulda".

    March 26, 2014 03:34 pm at 3:34 pm |
  8. sly

    Ah .... Rumsfield and Bush – the men that planned 9/11 then shipped 5000 American youth home in boxes.

    Why is it that Republicans all want Americans to die? Maybe they are really Nazi's?

    March 26, 2014 03:34 pm at 3:34 pm |
  9. Bluegrass

    Ape calling the kettle untrained.

    March 26, 2014 03:34 pm at 3:34 pm |
  10. Navy Chief

    I know everybody hates Obama, but what in the heck do the people want. We had a president that went to war by himself and you said no. He wants to work things diplomatically and you say no. You say get the troops from Iraq and Afghan and now you say we are weak internationally. You said he wouldn't go to war and he wanted Libya and you said no. You don't want to go into Iran but get mad when he signs an agreement w/ them that will boost his case if they don't comply. We skim back on things and then go crazy abut Benghazi. We are an unbelievable society now a days. And now you tell the troops that fight for you screw your benefits and retirement. Get off CNN and head to your recruiting station and work your feet and mouth.

    March 26, 2014 03:35 pm at 3:35 pm |
  11. jack

    Rumsfeld is a war monger, him and Cheney along with bush should be tried for war crimes and hanged like the primitive neanderthal he is......

    March 26, 2014 03:35 pm at 3:35 pm |
  12. Jerry Whitcomb

    Hey, he calls 'em like he sees 'em. I agree.

    March 26, 2014 03:35 pm at 3:35 pm |
  13. buckcameron

    Sad, delusional man.

    March 26, 2014 03:36 pm at 3:36 pm |
  14. Harley

    As an American Veteran, I don't care to hear any sh!t Rumsfeld has to say. Tool bag.

    March 26, 2014 03:36 pm at 3:36 pm |
  15. jrsgta

    I guess white trailer trash/ inbreed like Donald are showing how stupid they can be. At least President Obama didn't kill American soldiers on a lie.

    March 26, 2014 03:36 pm at 3:36 pm |
  16. Fed Up

    Rumsfeld is a war criminal and should be arrested and tried for crimes against humanity

    March 26, 2014 03:37 pm at 3:37 pm |
  17. Steve Wilson

    This from a War Criminal, who cannot leave the security of the United States, for fear of being arrested by Interpol, and put on trial for Crimes Against Humanity.

    March 26, 2014 03:38 pm at 3:38 pm |
  18. Nodack

    Bite me Rumsfeld. You killed hundreds of thousands in your quest to steal oil in Iraq. You didn't get Bin Laden in Afghanistan. Bin Laden was killed after you were ousted. The man who took your place as Secretary of Defense was a Republican hired by Bush and was retained under Obama. There isn't an American i detest more than you. You Bush and Cheney are the main reason I will never vote for another Republican again.

    March 26, 2014 03:38 pm at 3:38 pm |
  19. Bill

    This ignorant remark from the man that created an imaginary reason for going to war with Iraq that has nearly bankrupte the US.

    March 26, 2014 03:39 pm at 3:39 pm |
  20. mensaman

    It astonishes me that the Left has to reach this far to imply racism that isn't there and miss the point of just how terribly bad the Obama Administration's foreign policy, or lack thereof, is.
    If you want something to be outraged over, be outraged at your beloved President's fecklessness an incompetence.
    His list of blunders is too long to ignore. Our next election must fix this.

    March 26, 2014 03:39 pm at 3:39 pm |
  21. jboh

    From the man who made the decision to let Bin Laden escape from Tora Bora. That is the weakness TEA/GOP are complaining about. Their own lack of stones to go get him, and Mullah Omar, and the rest of Al Qaida, when they were trapped.

    March 26, 2014 03:39 pm at 3:39 pm |
  22. rufus

    Ape is a racist word and should be banned. Just like the N word. As for you zoo folks, just call them big monkeys. That is, unless monkey is banned, too.

    March 26, 2014 03:39 pm at 3:39 pm |
  23. Victor Maffei

    Rumsfeld's remarks are not worthy of a trained or untrained ape's comment.

    March 26, 2014 03:40 pm at 3:40 pm |
  24. The Mayor of Medinah

    Well Don should have known better than to make that comparison although I remember many a political cartoon of President Bush being portrayed as a chimp and no one said a word

    March 26, 2014 03:40 pm at 3:40 pm |
  25. bgg

    Isn't it truly racist to think everytime someone mentions a monkey or an ape that they are speaking of Obama?

    March 26, 2014 03:40 pm at 3:40 pm |
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