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. Anonymous

    Only human garbage would defend Donald Rumsfeld!

    March 26, 2014 06:18 pm at 6:18 pm |
  2. James

    Rumsfeld is completely right. If Obama had screwed everything up Karzai wouldn't be turning to Putin. It's sad Karzai has to turn to the country that invaded and murdered thousands. It shows Obama incompetence in every aspect of the job. And for those who want to scream racist shut up. You libs call everyone a racist that disagrees with Obama. No body is really listening anymore.

    March 26, 2014 06:18 pm at 6:18 pm |
  3. Dumbfounded

    Where do we dredge up our Jurassic park politicans from? rest in peace RUMSFELD!

    March 26, 2014 06:19 pm at 6:19 pm |
  4. scott

    How dare he criticize Obama in any meaningful way? I guess I should just focus on the ape comment and ignore the facts that he stated about the US relationship with Afghanistan. Maybe I can bring up the Republicans and Bush. That always makes me feel better when I hear anything critical of Obama. Yes. I feel better now.

    March 26, 2014 06:20 pm at 6:20 pm |
  5. Tony Manero

    From a patriot who deferred the Vietnam Draft but tough enough to think torturing prisoners was no more than not letting them sit for a few hours.

    March 26, 2014 06:20 pm at 6:20 pm |
  6. JDSoCal

    Typical CNN, making the critic of Obama the story instead of Obama, just like with Romney.

    March 26, 2014 06:21 pm at 6:21 pm |
  7. Tony Manero

    If the Taliban learn to speak English, they would be indistinguishable from the Tea Party in governing.

    March 26, 2014 06:23 pm at 6:23 pm |
  8. Mateo

    Putin is happy now. Let's do the Afghan thing agin says he.

    March 26, 2014 06:25 pm at 6:25 pm |
  9. TomGI

    Rumsfeld's career started with the Nixon administration. Shouldn't he be done by now? It's just a revolving door with these guys. And if a Republican (non-tea party) gets the presidency he'll shoe horn his way back in there in some capacity (along with Cheney) and try to get another slice of the Camelot lifestyle. Of course he'll keep giving interviews and grabbing sound bites leading up to 2016. That's his way to market himself as relevant to the next prime minister, oops I meant president.

    March 26, 2014 06:27 pm at 6:27 pm |
  10. Rita

    Rumsfeild is ridiculous....his failure of the last decade, along with Bush and Darth Vader (Cheney) have left a bitter residue of hatred and non-competence in the whole world....now the repulsvie republicans want Obama to go to war with Russia and call him weak...what nonsense!!! Why didn't they nominate Condaleza Rice for President if they were so sure their policies were the right ones? Oh, because Sarah Palin was wiser in foreign policy....please, anyone who believes in his drivel is insane.

    March 26, 2014 06:29 pm at 6:29 pm |
  11. Greatmutato

    Rumsfeld should be making his gutteral gruntings from prison. It is the best place for war criminals.

    March 26, 2014 06:30 pm at 6:30 pm |
  12. jackson

    Donald who?

    March 26, 2014 06:31 pm at 6:31 pm |
  13. awv

    Amazing how open minded and accepting of someone else's worldview Rumsfeld is when it behooves his criticism of the administration that had to clean up his mess.

    March 26, 2014 06:31 pm at 6:31 pm |
  14. NealR2000

    I guess Rachel Maddow has her show's theme worked out for tonight. Probably 90% this story and still about 10% on Chris Christie.

    March 26, 2014 06:38 pm at 6:38 pm |
  15. Yakobi

    Is it any surprise the left is deeply offending by this non-issue?
    They hated Bush so much to an extent that they actually wanted the U.S. to lose in both Afghanistan and Iraq. They have no effective foreign policy to tout, so they continue to trot out the old line of blaming someone in the Bush administration for their own failures. They're going to bankrupt the working class with Obamacare–something they "had to pass before we found out what's in it".
    They're in a disastrous tailspin and will do anything to deflect away from their own shortcomings, including race-mongering. The good news is the American public is starting to wake up to their shenanigans and won't be fooled in November.

    March 26, 2014 06:39 pm at 6:39 pm |
  16. Dave

    Don Rumsfeld led the effort against the incredibly weak Iraqi forces. The actual war only lasted a short time. Then he proceeded to virtually lose the war against a terribly weak foe. He did virtually everything one could do.

    The subsequent "surge" that the Bush administration was forced to engage in was a grotesque admittance as to how badly they had done everything between attacking Iraq and the need for the surge.

    Rumsfeld is the last guy in the world to criticize anyone else.

    March 26, 2014 06:41 pm at 6:41 pm |
  17. dike

    Its unbelievable the amount of hatred on this board here. Next election is going to be a civil war....

    March 26, 2014 06:42 pm at 6:42 pm |
  18. Jim Jimson

    It's amazing that this lunatic has the nerve to show his face in public and claim to be an expert on foreign policy when is one of the chief architects of the Iraq war, the single biggest foreign policy blunder in the entire history of this country.

    March 26, 2014 06:43 pm at 6:43 pm |
  19. john pickett

    You can train an ape but then he's free to learn on his own

    March 26, 2014 06:45 pm at 6:45 pm |
  20. Simon Cohen

    Rumsfeld has a right to free speech, however, his speech is not only rude but, more important, racist.

    March 26, 2014 06:46 pm at 6:46 pm |
  21. Big_D

    So he used the same comment when he was lying about the uranium processing in Iraq too?

    March 26, 2014 06:46 pm at 6:46 pm |
  22. budwhite451

    get serious, I know he used to stand up at his desk, but this is too much, also I know this won't get posted but I like to give it a try

    March 26, 2014 06:47 pm at 6:47 pm |
  23. Orygun Duck

    What success can Rumsfeld claim?? Americans died so that Iraq could become a client of Iran, and he missed that one.

    March 26, 2014 06:48 pm at 6:48 pm |
  24. visitor

    Dennis, do you remember a bunch of "liberals" defending Vietnam? What alternative universe do you live in?

    By the way, Vietnam was started by Eisenhower, an "R". It was greatly escalated by Nixon despite running on a platform that he had a "secret" plan to stop the war. The secret was invading all the surrounding countries.

    Beware of ANY Republican that has a) "Secret" intelligence, b) "Secret" plans.

    I am not sure where you are getting your view of "anyone in the military". I have vets in my family, they hated Bush. Not everyone is stupid enough to believe that if neocons send military into stupid wars ill equipped and then get their benefits cut that they are military supporters.

    March 26, 2014 06:49 pm at 6:49 pm |
  25. budwhite451

    Get serious, he's gone too far

    March 26, 2014 06:49 pm at 6:49 pm |
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