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. Ralph

    It has been a long time, but I am still waiting for something intelligent to come out of that man's mouth.

    March 26, 2014 05:07 pm at 5:07 pm |
  2. visitor

    Robert, 50% of Democrats in the Senate voted no to the War Resolution. 100% of Republicans (except for Ron Paul) voted Yes. The White House was responsible for 100% of the lies including about the Yellowcake. Moved WMD to Syria? Hmmm, I guess then we should have attacked Russia also, and Syria and Assad. Buuut, I thought Assad was taking care of Christians and keeping out Al Queda and Terrorists. So, Al Queda is not the enemy anymore? Forget 9/11, lets attack the wrong countries again!

    Talk about forgetting.

    March 26, 2014 05:07 pm at 5:07 pm |
  3. jeff

    Okay Mr. Rumsfeld,
    Remember when you said "of course they have weapons of mass destruction, we know where 85% of them are!"?
    I think you pulled the word feckless out of your rear when you looked in the mirror. Go ahead and try to say someone is more incompetent than you were. You set the lowest standard of all time. Can't have your yellow cake and eat it too.

    March 26, 2014 05:08 pm at 5:08 pm |
  4. dzerres

    This from a man who should be sitting in jail at The Hague waiting for his trial on international war crimes.

    March 26, 2014 05:08 pm at 5:08 pm |
  5. rr

    He is an awful hateful person. He just wants to be heard and he has a forum on FOX news. His real motive for saying hateful things is that he is trying to deflect his stupidity while in the White House being Bush's brain.

    March 26, 2014 05:08 pm at 5:08 pm |
  6. Leah

    Well, it takes a trained ape to know a trained ape.

    March 26, 2014 05:08 pm at 5:08 pm |
  7. steveo

    rummy the dummy is lucky we're trying to outlaw capital punishment in this country otherwise he, wolfy, cheney and W might be up for a hangin' for, lets see, criminal stoopidity, treasonous waste of $3 Trillion and the lives of 3000 American soldiers, 3rd grade IQ botching of middle east policy, failing to bring the isreali's to any sort of proper policy regards the palastinians which was a majority of OBL's primary motivation for 9/11, *failing, utterly, completely and miserably* to see 9/11 despite half decent intelligence from a *Clinton admin* CIA. we could go on and on. his guy couldnt hold his winky straight let alone be allowed to screw up and misdeploy what was before he got his hands on it, the finest mikitary in the world.

    March 26, 2014 05:09 pm at 5:09 pm |
  8. Kevin Cothren

    War criminal!!

    March 26, 2014 05:09 pm at 5:09 pm |
  9. BadDog91748

    The term is offensive, alright – to apes. Apes are better looking, smarter, nicer, than just about any human. This is particularly true of any politician – whatever the party, whatever the ideological bent.

    March 26, 2014 05:11 pm at 5:11 pm |
  10. Crazy Dave

    Wow, he feels sorry for Karzai? That idiot let people out of prison that were caught making bombs. We can't get out of Afghanistan soon enough.

    March 26, 2014 05:11 pm at 5:11 pm |
  11. angelosdaughter@att.net

    Well, GWB was Rumsfel's trained ape. LOL.
    I thought we were rid of this old fool's bloviating. His response to everything is war.

    March 26, 2014 05:13 pm at 5:13 pm |
  12. Meyer

    "Stephan
    What would you expect from a lying, self serving individual who along with many on the Bush administration ducked compulsory military duty?

    March 26, 2014 04:48 pm at 4:48 pm |"

    What? Rumsfeld was in the Navy for 20 years!

    March 26, 2014 05:15 pm at 5:15 pm |
  13. Tom999

    RUMSFELD: "We know where the [ Iraq WMD} are...Tikrit and Baghdad." 3300 U.S. troops DEAD... 30000 WOUNDED and MAIMED FOR LIFE. $1,000,000,000,000 and counting.

    March 26, 2014 05:15 pm at 5:15 pm |
  14. dalla

    FYI, Rumsfeld did serve in the military.

    March 26, 2014 05:15 pm at 5:15 pm |
  15. Jim Rome

    This laughable war monger has no credibility. Our country is nearly bankrupt because we took four trillion dollars and dumped it into a burn pit in Iraq and Afghanistan. Other generations have built things like the Hoover Dam and NASA, we built a burn pit. Thanks, Donald.

    March 26, 2014 05:15 pm at 5:15 pm |
  16. ?!?wut?!?

    ". . . Rumsfeld told Fox News"

    Well that explains it all, fox newz, but of course!! . . . I didn't know this old coot was still kicking.

    March 26, 2014 05:16 pm at 5:16 pm |
  17. jimbo

    Rumsfeld is a joke, a liar, and dumber than an ape!

    March 26, 2014 05:16 pm at 5:16 pm |
  18. Thaddius

    "It is unknowable how long that conflict [the war in Iraq] will last. It could last six days, six weeks. I doubt six months." Donald Rumsfeld, Feb. 2003

    He's an idiot. Nuff said.

    March 26, 2014 05:16 pm at 5:16 pm |
  19. Rod

    So...let me get this straight...Rumsfeld thinks we mishandled Afghanistan and mistreated Karzi...the same place and guy that had Bin Laden hiding in a gigantic compound relatively next door to a military academy? that Afghanastan...that Karzi? and now you sympathize with him as he SIDES WITH PUTIN? Karzai is an opportunist...always has been...I can assure you he will change his tune as soon as the wind shifts direction (that wind being us completing negotiation to the taliban to chill out...something Karzai couldn't do in his wildest dreams)...Rumsfeld should REALLY think twice before assessing someone elses foreign policy given how horrible they were with Iraq and ignorant they were with Russia remember they could see into Putin's soul...and then they let him Deebo (that's a Tim Lister reference from the movie "Friday") Georgia...I think Chris Berman says it best...CMON MAN!!!

    March 26, 2014 05:17 pm at 5:17 pm |
  20. chris

    When blacks stop using the n word I'll care about what others say.

    March 26, 2014 05:17 pm at 5:17 pm |
  21. J. Gordon

    Rummy increased his audience fivefold just by saying "Trained Ape". Whatever it takes to get "The Message" out. I'll bet the comment was made for just that reason.

    March 26, 2014 05:17 pm at 5:17 pm |
  22. SickofDumbPublicOfficials

    Rumsfeld made an accurate and to his character, blatant statement.

    OBAMA and the OBAMA administration have been incompetent on both domestic and foreign policy.

    OBAMA is a failed leader, who on on every single issue has not only failed but in so doing has damaged this country.

    March 26, 2014 05:20 pm at 5:20 pm |
  23. dalla

    FYI, Rumsfeld did serve in the military and he was a lousy Sec. of Defense.

    March 26, 2014 05:20 pm at 5:20 pm |
  24. Jojo

    Always looking for ways to play the race card. Liberals and the liberal media.

    March 26, 2014 05:21 pm at 5:21 pm |
  25. TheMovieFan

    A former member of the Bush II administration complaining about another administration's diplomatic policy. You have to be kidding.

    March 26, 2014 05:21 pm at 5:21 pm |
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