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

    Why would "trained ape" be offensive? Aren't we all related to apes according to Evolution? It is more of an insult to the ape than the administration. I believe trained apes would do a better job than most of the government we have today.

    March 26, 2014 12:21 pm at 12:21 pm |
  2. Daniel

    any untrained ape would have recognized that Iraq did not have WMDS, there was no link to Al Queda, no link to 9/11 and would have not started the Iraq war!!!

    March 26, 2014 12:22 pm at 12:22 pm |
  3. More bad news..

    Finding offense and racism where none exists – let's all do the Politically Correct dance – where you cover your ears, eyes, and mouth and take at offense at anything anyone says or does that doesn't promote your own point of view.

    March 26, 2014 12:22 pm at 12:22 pm |
  4. The other guy

    Seriously though, if any of you think that our diplomacy is being done in an artful manner in any part of world, you should have your heads checked. I thought we were supposed to be hitting the reset button? At least with fear, you get respect. Now we just get laughed at.

    March 26, 2014 12:22 pm at 12:22 pm |
  5. ezduzit757

    I could not believe my eyes when I saw the headline of this piece. Donald Rumsfeld?? This guy is still alive? And giving advice on diplomacy? Haven't heard a peep about him for years, which was a good thing. Why would this m0ron think anybody would listen to what he thinks about anything after the absolute MESS he made in Iraq. How many young American heroes died or lost limbs or worse as a result of this guy's ineptitude? And now he thinks he has something to offer in the way of advice on diplomatic relations???? Oh please Donald, just go away and hang your head in shame.

    March 26, 2014 12:23 pm at 12:23 pm |
  6. TheSadTruth

    YET ANOTHER reason to not believe ANY claim that the GOP is changing the way it does business. It is now the party of Ted Nugent and Duck Dynasty, and has no answers for any situation other than to condemn the President, NO MATTER what he does or does not do.
    Take the test yourself- find ANY article by a prominent GOP figure in which they criticize Obama for his actions, THEN try to find an actual descriptive sentence that states what the GOP would do in the same situation. You will not find one.

    March 26, 2014 12:24 pm at 12:24 pm |
  7. Silence DoGood

    @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.
    ----------
    ....and by contrast, Rumsfeld would call invasion of the wrong country and the needless deaths of 1000's of people a success?

    March 26, 2014 12:25 pm at 12:25 pm |
  8. Kiefer'sNewAssistant

    Strange gusto from the man who let Bin-Linden go when the jerk was in our crosshairs in 2005.

    March 26, 2014 12:25 pm at 12:25 pm |
  9. Steve R

    This guy's decisions cost this Country many lives and the billions of dollars wasted was a reason for the financial collapse. His military decisions can only be compared to Custers'. Both he and Cheney are fortunate not to be sharing a cell in a deep dark hole for their misdeeds. A trained ape knows this to be true.

    March 26, 2014 12:26 pm at 12:26 pm |
  10. The other guy

    This guys' day was done years ago, but the MSM must follow him around just to provide red meat for you kids. ; D

    March 26, 2014 12:27 pm at 12:27 pm |
  11. Lolo

    Yea right!!!!!!!!! These Republicans, Tea Partiers and Libertarians have showed their true colors every since the black man was elected mind you into office, and then they turn around and say I did not mean it, you are changing my words. Wake up America and vote these frauds out.

    March 26, 2014 12:28 pm at 12:28 pm |
  12. RN

    this is like the 4 year old telling the doctor how to do surgery.
    Does anyone beyond the core of conservative nut jobs pay attention to what this guy says?

    March 26, 2014 12:28 pm at 12:28 pm |
  13. Tampa Tim

    I find it hard to believe that brain dead republicans still support and defend the destruction of our country by W, Cheney, and Rummy.

    March 26, 2014 12:28 pm at 12:28 pm |
  14. J.R.

    The important thing you need to know about Rummy is that when the plane hit the Pentagon, he ran inside to pull his injured people out. The rest is Bravo Sierra.

    Can you imagine Obama or Hillery doing that? Not a chance.

    March 26, 2014 12:29 pm at 12:29 pm |
  15. jcrmd

    Mr. Rumsfeld, if there is one person to blame for the "epic" mess in the Middle East we are in nowadays is you, however it is more fair to say that we shouldn't blame you but rather the voters who elected your boss George Bush knowing he would do exactly what he said would do prior to his election. These same voters (who have no conscience and are responsible for the country's current woes) are the ones who continue trashing the administration's effort to revert some of the past mistakes and continue forward progress.

    March 26, 2014 12:30 pm at 12:30 pm |
  16. kaliman

    Is he talking about the known knowns, the unknown unknowns, or the known unknowns when he mentions the untrained ape? I doubt that he has enough history in the certainty department to really know.

    March 26, 2014 12:30 pm at 12:30 pm |
  17. sonny chapman

    If Bush/Cheney/Rummy were calling the shots right now, the US Military would have Invaded & attacked- POLAND.

    March 26, 2014 12:31 pm at 12:31 pm |
  18. Stop wasting time

    This guy helped start a war on lies and deception, why is he not in prison?

    March 26, 2014 12:32 pm at 12:32 pm |
  19. commonSensed

    Why do we allow Rumsfeld or Cheny any credibility whatsoever? They lied to us, embroiling us in a war of their making costing thousands of American lives and billions of dollars. They deserve neither our time or respect.

    March 26, 2014 12:32 pm at 12:32 pm |
  20. Jim

    At least this discussion is not one of him being "racist" and more focused on his authority (or lack thereof) to comment about the current administration. I think the the numerous examples of his use of the phrase "trained ape" does not show a theme of racism. I think it is just a catch phrase, albeit not a good one in our political correct world.

    March 26, 2014 12:33 pm at 12:33 pm |
  21. Tampa Tim

    Ashton – If 275 million Americans got to keep their insurance policy and their doctors because they were nor affected by the health care law, if an addition 15 million who were previously uninsured now have coverage, and 2 million red staters get to keep their junk policy for another year, why aren't you happy?

    March 26, 2014 12:34 pm at 12:34 pm |
  22. harrisonhits2

    Why is this torturer, war criminal, war profiteer and one of the most evil and despicable figures in American history even allowed a voice any more ?

    And this from the same people who sent planes full of cash to the Afghani government that disappeared, that funneled billions in no bid contracts to Halliburton who then stole a huge portion of those billions, never accounting for a lot if it. He should be jailed for life not given a voice by the media

    March 26, 2014 12:34 pm at 12:34 pm |
  23. PushingBack

    Well, in all fairness, if anyone is familiar with being a trained ape, it's Donny Rumsfeld.

    March 26, 2014 12:35 pm at 12:35 pm |
  24. GiGi Green

    This evil old man should just keep his ugly remarks to himself. Who care what he thinks? He is totally irrelevant. Republicans are so mean. They want another war so badly. I'm sure if one of them gets elected as president we will be lied into another war They love playing soldier with other people's children.

    March 26, 2014 12:35 pm at 12:35 pm |
  25. windu

    "There's no debate in the world as to whether they have those weapons. We all know that. A trained ape knows that." -Don Rumsfeld, who is apparently as clueless about the intelligence of trained apes as he was about Iraq's possession of WMDs.

    March 26, 2014 12:36 pm at 12:36 pm |
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