Rumsfeld 'trained ape' comment stirs controversy
March 26th, 2014
11:40 AM ET
5 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. Dawn Kiebals

    He clearly doesn't know what he doesn't know. Greta: Who's next with their expert opinion, Paul Wolfowitz? Laughable.

    March 26, 2014 06:49 pm at 6:49 pm |
  2. Anonymous

    Here's a guy who completely blew it in Afghanistan and presided over the Iraq War, one of the biggest foreign policy blunders in American history, and he's attacking Obama? Really? Of course, conservatives, in complete denial and unable to factually review Rumsfeld's tenure, think it's great.

    March 26, 2014 06:50 pm at 6:50 pm |
  3. DAVID

    Mr. Rumsfeld, what the heck is wrong with you to tell us the truth? How dare you?

    March 26, 2014 06:50 pm at 6:50 pm |
  4. vicnormal

    You know, I don't pay any attention to what unwiped aholes produce, I just flush the results before it smells to bad.

    March 26, 2014 06:51 pm at 6:51 pm |
  5. Juxtapoz

    Hmmm...could a "trained ape" have found WMD in Iraq? If not...who'd we send instead?

    March 26, 2014 06:52 pm at 6:52 pm |
  6. anon

    Ah yes. Rumsfeld. The same person that trained Victoria Nuland and most of the people at the Department of Defense and the State Department that are currently in power. Yes, his comments are correct. Obama is nothing more than a front man for those people like Victoria Nuland, her husband, his brother, and many many others.

    March 26, 2014 06:53 pm at 6:53 pm |
  7. vbcbandr

    Wasn't it the Bush admin, which included Rumsfeld, that got us into the Afghan quagmire in the first place? So, Rumsfeld feels comfortable trashing the current administration for not cleaning up his own mess well enough? Ummmmmm....ok.

    March 26, 2014 06:55 pm at 6:55 pm |
  8. vicnormal

    I don't pay much attention to an unwiped ahole, I just flush his comments before they smell to bad.

    March 26, 2014 06:57 pm at 6:57 pm |
  9. justbeamensch

    Rummy should be in prison and he knows it. He should keep his mouth shut, he's lucky he's not wearing stripes.

    March 26, 2014 06:57 pm at 6:57 pm |
  10. mike0404

    Hey Donnie, do you have your draft dodging deferments from Vietnam mounted on your wall. You are very good at killing other people's kids. Thank God we only have to hear from you once every few years. But, if we need another trillion dollar, 5,000 dead, 30,000 wounded hit to the USA, we know where to find you. Too bad Obama didn't have the guts to put you on trial for crimes against humanity.

    March 26, 2014 06:57 pm at 6:57 pm |
  11. charles

    Rumsfeld must have failed his trained ape course as part of the BUSH/CHENEY administration. They got this war wrong from the get-go and now must try to deflect the blame in order to make themselves look better. Looking good in the Iraq/Afghan war debacle is impossible..........

    March 26, 2014 06:57 pm at 6:57 pm |
  12. Intruth24

    Ole' Rummy is the biggest Trained Ape on the planet!!!! What nevre after he botched the Iraq War and left Afganistan in a quagmire for Obama to clean up. What NERVE! Any wonder he was FIRED!?

    March 26, 2014 06:58 pm at 6:58 pm |
  13. OrmondGeorge

    A trained ape could have spoken more eloquently and more succinctly than Donald Rumsfeld.

    March 26, 2014 07:02 pm at 7:02 pm |
  14. Intruth24

    "We already know a trained ape is more competent then Obama,Hillary,Biden,Reid and Pelosi.."

    Yeah and they are more competent than, Bush, Rumsfeld, Cruz, Boehner, Paul, Romney, Palin, Mcconnell.......

    March 26, 2014 07:05 pm at 7:05 pm |
  15. John

    Rumsfeld should be able to explain his approach to diplomacy in 10 seconds or less.

    March 26, 2014 07:05 pm at 7:05 pm |
  16. Anonymous

    I grew up in Michigan and I spent many happy days of my youth sledding downhill in the snow. I resent the comparison to toboggans.

    March 26, 2014 07:05 pm at 7:05 pm |
  17. JakeF

    He's 81 years old. The last few sound bytes from a dinosaur whose time has long since passed.

    March 26, 2014 07:07 pm at 7:07 pm |
  18. Big joe

    "Plain and simple", where is all this oil money??? You been to a gas station lately? I'm still waiting for low prices.

    March 26, 2014 07:12 pm at 7:12 pm |
  19. JB

    ok pull the race card...

    March 26, 2014 07:16 pm at 7:16 pm |
  20. Lincoln Freed No One

    Yeah, because if anyone know's anything about foreign policy its Neocon,chickenhawk scum. I hope this miserable war-mongering pr!ck dies slowly of anal cancer.

    March 26, 2014 07:16 pm at 7:16 pm |
  21. Ashok Bhagat

    We should all ignore have beens like Rumsfeld (twice loser), Mccain, Brazinski, Albright.

    March 26, 2014 07:17 pm at 7:17 pm |
  22. tshimelis

    wow,Ramsfield,what is wrong with you?? Do you think we forgot what misirable Iraq war was at the time you were trained ape and had hard time to catch Osma bin. Now it easy for ape like you to commented cheap

    March 26, 2014 07:19 pm at 7:19 pm |
  23. TheBob

    Obama made the unforgivable mistake of not putting Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld, Rice and Powell on trial for war crimes.

    March 26, 2014 07:19 pm at 7:19 pm |
  24. Jeff

    Rumsfeld, of all people, criticizing Obama for lack of diplomacy? Give me a break! This is the same guy who shunned any meaningful diplomatic efforts in our dealings with Iraq and Afghanistan; invaded Iraq based upon the obviously false premise that Saddam Hussein was hiding "weapons of mass destruction", resulting in a loss of 5,000 American lives, 20,000 casualties, and a waste of more than a trillion dollars; invaded and occupied Afghanistan without any long-term objective other than to prop up a corrupt, tin-horn dictator (Karzai), resulting in the longest war in American history, thousands of deaths and casualties and another waste of more than a trillion dollars.

    March 26, 2014 07:19 pm at 7:19 pm |
  25. The Tax Man

    Obama is less competent than a trained ape. Obama cannot possibly even tie his own shoes. He needs to resign and allow someone capable of running our country (and not Biden or Kerry) to take over. Perhaps time for an emergency national election for a new president. We really need to combat Putin and the evils of our world and Obama has absolutely NO ability to even comprehend what is needed. Send Obama back to Kenya and let him run a tribe in the bush, but get him out of the White House before he does more damage!

    March 26, 2014 07:20 pm at 7:20 pm |
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