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. Thinking it through.

    yeah Rummie... he certainly got it right with Iraq......to essentially call Obama an ape– yep, racism is alive and well in America... the man should be water boarded with his pal Cheney...2 chicken hawks... never served but were willing to let our kids die for them–talk about hubris....

    March 26, 2014 04:49 pm at 4:49 pm |
  2. lysheen

    This man is responsible for the single biggest blunder in the history of America's military. "We will be greeted as liberators". 10 years, 5,000+ dead American's 30,000+ wounded and injured, $3 Trillion + dollars later, and this moron still has the audacity to criticize other people's foreign policy. Smh....

    March 26, 2014 04:49 pm at 4:49 pm |
  3. aatami rikollinen

    Rumsfeld is lucky he's not in prison, he should really keep his trash to himself.

    March 26, 2014 04:49 pm at 4:49 pm |
  4. Dave

    He should rum for President in 2016 and see if the American votes agree with his war, war, and war plans

    March 26, 2014 04:49 pm at 4:49 pm |
  5. Steven

    Amazing how this retread has the gaull to open hia mouth with what he did with 9/11 and being in bed with Bin Ladin's family along with organ grinder & chimp that were in the White House.

    March 26, 2014 04:49 pm at 4:49 pm |
  6. Robert

    Scooby DOo

    Would this be the same trained ape he said knew there were WMDs in Iraq before invading them?

    You must be referring to Clinton, Kerry and all the other liberal who supported the invasion based on the best intelligence we had at the time. Lets see gassed his own people, had tons of yellow cake, Ruskies moved WMD to
    Syria What else have you stupid liberals forgotten?.

    March 26, 2014 04:50 pm at 4:50 pm |
  7. Florida Joe

    Our President has had to deal with the CRAP left over from this guy.........typical, say anything and when you get called on it "Oh of course that's not what I meant"............Rumsfeld is sickening..........just shut up and go away

    March 26, 2014 04:50 pm at 4:50 pm |
  8. mb

    Every so often fools like Rumsfeld emerge from their place of ignominy under the rocks and bleat and whine. we just ignore them and they return to their proper place of inconsequence.

    March 26, 2014 04:51 pm at 4:51 pm |
  9. djjimi

    Wait, wouldn't that make Rummy an ape trainer? They're all the same...

    March 26, 2014 04:53 pm at 4:53 pm |
  10. MatarObamacare

    He could NOT have been referring to Obama... Obama has no training!

    March 26, 2014 04:54 pm at 4:54 pm |
  11. Lynn

    Ronald Dumbsfeld has killed more American soldiers and screwed more American taxpayers than almost anyone breathing. He doesn't deserve air time

    March 26, 2014 04:56 pm at 4:56 pm |
  12. m123

    sure it's racist because EVERYTHING IS RACIST TO DEMS WHEN IT COMES TO OLOSER
    Beyond that, it seems fairly accurate.

    March 26, 2014 04:57 pm at 4:57 pm |
  13. sam

    Getting advice on foreign affairs from DR is like getting advice on celibacy from Charlie Sheen.

    March 26, 2014 04:58 pm at 4:58 pm |
  14. Persimmon

    Why do we have to hear from this aging has been good ole boy? He allows a stream of effluent to come from his mouth. No more please.

    March 26, 2014 04:59 pm at 4:59 pm |
  15. Studio Dave

    If there is anyone in this world who should just shut up and go away it's Rummy. This is the guy that stated "we know where the WMD are in Iraq. They are north, south, east, and west of Bagdad". What a tool. I wish Cheney had taken him quail hunting and shot him in the face. Oh, wait. That really happened to someone else.....

    March 26, 2014 04:59 pm at 4:59 pm |
  16. Adam

    And we should listen to this lying crook why? Takes the US to war based on lies. Profits immensely from it. Never served in the military but happily sends YOUR kids to get killed on foreign soil. Abducts and tortures 'enemy combatants' and sets the course for the US to fall from grace on a global scale. If ever there was a no talent ass clown this guy is it. The President has certainly disappointed but he's just another puppet in a long list of failures. We need some real leaders to recover.

    March 26, 2014 05:00 pm at 5:00 pm |
  17. Mitch

    Guess you should have used "trained Mexican" instead?

    March 26, 2014 05:00 pm at 5:00 pm |
  18. nomanyeti

    Hyper sensitive rascals should be calling their Mommies to whine & cry, as they're the only people who care. Suck a Root, Bozos.

    March 26, 2014 05:01 pm at 5:01 pm |
  19. Hogan's Goat

    Really, why should anyone care what a liar like this thinks about his betters? He's one step away from prison. How about having Dog the Bounty Hunter extradite him to the Hague?

    March 26, 2014 05:01 pm at 5:01 pm |
  20. Kenna

    Oh please..... if you have a better idea, then convince the Obama administration. If you hate them, don't insult them.
    You have the right to say what ever you want, however, Obama is your President- you like it or not.
    Be a good model for the world......think...think...think.

    March 26, 2014 05:01 pm at 5:01 pm |
  21. columbus

    Rumsfeld is a cantankerous pompous ass. Diplomacy and integrity was no better during his tenure in Washington. We need leadership in this country not more ridicule, it only weakens us more.

    March 26, 2014 05:02 pm at 5:02 pm |
  22. visitor

    Putin rolled right into Georgia when Bush was President.

    March 26, 2014 05:02 pm at 5:02 pm |
  23. Rick

    At least an ape tells the truth, Obama lies about everything! No we can't keep our health plans which were better and cheaper. No we can't keep our doctors which were better and cheaper. Yes Russia is the greatest geo political threat, obama lies about everything. He ran on being a transparent president yet he covers everything up. Benghazi, The IRS targeting conservatives, Fast and furious, Health care. He lies all the time! Gimme an ape anyday over obama.

    March 26, 2014 05:03 pm at 5:03 pm |
  24. gustifer53

    Rummy the dummy was and still is the biggest POS we ever had in that job. Him, Bush, and Cheney should have be in prison years ago, and spending the rest of their shameless and worthless live there. I have NOTHING good to say about any of the three stooges!!!!!!!!!!

    March 26, 2014 05:04 pm at 5:04 pm |
  25. Frank

    I wonder if it was a trained ape who instructed Rumsfeld, DICK Cheney, and Bush Number 2 how to LIE about WMD to get us into a war with Iraq. It was probably the same trained ape that planned the invasion and occupation. One thing is for sure, it was no trained ape that ignored all the warnings that Al Quaeda planned to use airplanes as weapons. Nope, that honor falls squarely on Señor Moron De Arbusto (AKA Bush Number 2). And, wasn't it Bush Number Two who told us all how he thought Putin had a good soul???? AHAHAHAHAHA!!!

    March 26, 2014 05:05 pm at 5:05 pm |
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