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. Gop R. Odious

    But, a trained ape could not murder a million people for nothing based upon a lie.

    March 26, 2014 04:11 pm at 4:11 pm |
  2. nimitta

    "In 2002, [Rumsfeld] 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.""

    Apparently Mr. Rumsfeld, one of the 'trained apes' governing this country from 2001-9, 'knew' quite a few things that weren't true. As it turns out, he was right: "there's no debate in the world as to whether they have those weapons". They didn't.

    March 26, 2014 04:12 pm at 4:12 pm |
  3. BOb the Prairie Dog

    That's like consulting the Buffalo Bills on how to win the Super Bowl....

    March 26, 2014 04:14 pm at 4:14 pm |
  4. steve

    Let's hear about all of Rumsfeld's diplomatic successes. He's as brilliant as a trained amoeba.

    March 26, 2014 04:14 pm at 4:14 pm |
  5. erin

    Why does anyone ask these idiots for their opinion????? Rumsfeld, Cheney, etc. seriously? They have NOOOO credibility.

    March 26, 2014 04:14 pm at 4:14 pm |
  6. visitor

    Marc Wilson, umm, who is Nick Cannon? Is his relevance equal to the man who engineered the Iraq War plan and cooked up evidence to start a war? Does he work in the Obama administration? Am I supposed to google this?

    March 26, 2014 04:16 pm at 4:16 pm |
  7. Sistas

    I don't care what he has to say. CNN....please, step up your standards. Try reporting news. This is not news. It's barn yard fodder.

    March 26, 2014 04:16 pm at 4:16 pm |
  8. jennifer in Houston

    "trained ape". is this something he knows he knows, or he knows he doesn't know, or he doesn't know he doesn't know.. oh wait, he must be talking about himself.

    March 26, 2014 04:16 pm at 4:16 pm |
  9. Rational Thinker

    Let us all remember which administration, with Mr Rumsfeld as Secretary of Defense, got America into a non-winnable war in Afghanistan (check with the Russian, British, etc on how easy it is to "conquer" Afghanistan). Of course the present administration comntinues to have varied degrees of success cleaning up the sh** sandwich left on thier doorstep when they came into office. Rumsfeld was instrumental in getting our country involved there, with no idea of how to get out of there and has the cojones to criticize those that are left with cleaning up his mess. Hey Don, it really is a new world out there from when you were so intent on screwing it up.

    March 26, 2014 04:17 pm at 4:17 pm |
  10. hippie power 69

    oh yes, i seem to remember something about rummy saying in regards to the iraq war, 6 days, 6 weeks or 6 months when asked how long it would take to win. also, that the oil would pay for the war it wouldn't cost us a penny. wow how wrong can one person be? it still surprises me that he or gwb or dick haven't been put on trial for crimes against humanity.

    March 26, 2014 04:17 pm at 4:17 pm |
  11. frit frat

    Rumsfeld is generous using the "trained" modifier.....

    March 26, 2014 04:17 pm at 4:17 pm |
  12. mindstorms1

    Donny boy should spend the rest of his life apologizing to every family who lost a loved one in Iraq. He should be cleaning the bed panes of every soldier who will spend the rest of their lives without limbs. He should apologize to America for the unnecessary war in Iraq. Or maybe he should spend the rest of his days searching for those imaginary WMDs in Iraq. The last thing he should do is ever criticize anyone else because he and the rest of those neocons were responsible for the greatest foreign policy mistake in our history.

    March 26, 2014 04:19 pm at 4:19 pm |
  13. Semperfi3013

    Poor CNN liberal posters! The misearble muslim failure in the white house ie your dear commie leader. Who now is dis-owned by Black Church Leaders. Building his tiny $40MM estate in Hawaii. No curruption here. Poor liberals, have no morals, never served in the service, no values and fear no god. You have lots in common with the great fake. How quickly you forget 911. Those 3K + lives mean nothing to you. POS

    March 26, 2014 04:20 pm at 4:20 pm |
  14. Cecil Nixxon

    Easy now, folks. Donald Rumsfeld is a "Distinguished Eagle Scout." It is awarded to an Eagle Scout for distinguished service in his profession and to his community for a period of at least 25 years after attaining the level of Eagle Scout.

    A scout from a troop run properly by trained adults would not be allowed to mouth off about the President. He would be quickly pulled out of line, and quietly reminded what citizenship and respect for the office means – no matter what the scout's opinion is of the President.

    An Eagle Scout is always and forever a Scout, expected to conduct himself accordingly through life. I'm sorry Mr. Rumsfeld apparently never *believed* any of that citizenship in the nation garbage. Any old citizen can say whatever they want, and be as disrespectful as they care to be. But a Scout does not behave this way.

    March 26, 2014 04:20 pm at 4:20 pm |
  15. ART

    To He's a chronic liar, your mom right now is in hell doing what I don't know , Oh wait I saw the exorcist.

    March 26, 2014 04:21 pm at 4:21 pm |
  16. Ehsan

    This is exactly why Rumsfield is out and Chuck Hagel is in

    March 26, 2014 04:21 pm at 4:21 pm |
  17. Brad

    If your first reaction is to take the "trained ape" comment as racist, you're the racist.

    March 26, 2014 04:21 pm at 4:21 pm |
  18. Concerned Americans

    Why would we be listening or quoting anything that Rumsfeld has to say? This is one of the 'pack of George Bush administration' that had us in a war that should not have been a war in Iraq– and we are listening to him? With his comments and his contribution to being in the war in Iraq, we all know how much of an 'untrained ape' he is! I do like the comment from Gop R. Odious.

    March 26, 2014 04:22 pm at 4:22 pm |
  19. bozobucks

    If black people don't think they look like apes, then why would they think old Donald was inferring that Obama looks like an ape?

    March 26, 2014 04:23 pm at 4:23 pm |
  20. Miguel Caron

    Chimp Jokes Directed At Bush: HILARIOUS and posted EVERYWHERE
    Chimp Jokes Directed At Obama: WRONG and RACIST

    People need to stop being hypocrites.

    March 26, 2014 04:24 pm at 4:24 pm |
  21. Ronnie Ray Jenkins

    Rumsfeld is a wealthy trained ape, and along with Bush and Cheney all three apes profited greatly. So, take a look at them bananas.

    March 26, 2014 04:25 pm at 4:25 pm |
  22. JDub81

    A trained ape is much better than this washed -up Secretary of Defense moron!

    March 26, 2014 04:26 pm at 4:26 pm |
  23. Hogan's Goat

    " For a "smart" man, Rumsfeld shows little insight or understanding of nuance." This will be Rummy's epitaph. Carve it on his tombstone.

    March 26, 2014 04:26 pm at 4:26 pm |
  24. chadzimmerman

    Utterly shocking he would be given air time, and have the gull to critique foreign policy. He should be in prison.

    March 26, 2014 04:27 pm at 4:27 pm |
  25. dsangiovanni

    Untrained apes could understand his mishandling of everything related to Iraq and Afghanistan. Do not understand how this guy can sleep at night with so many deaths in his conscience.

    March 26, 2014 04:27 pm at 4:27 pm |
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