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. Lee sTU

    all he had to do was start the wars not negotiate a SoF-A agreement

    March 26, 2014 07:23 pm at 7:23 pm |
  2. barb'sbarb

    Yeah, Rumsfeld's opinion is sooo important. (sarcasm)

    After all he was the one who said that the military gets to go to war with what they got .... not necessarily what the military needs...

    March 26, 2014 07:24 pm at 7:24 pm |
  3. Jonathan

    way to go CNN. it was meant in jest and there you go trying to make it into something it wasn't. nice try. we miss Rumsfeld!

    March 26, 2014 07:26 pm at 7:26 pm |
  4. Hoot

    Oh–do you mean to say you could do better, Mr. Rumsfeld?

    I can only imagine what would happen to you if you were a Russian citizen and were to make such comments about the Russian leaders.

    Sadly, you stir up certain elements among the American population. Shame on you.

    March 26, 2014 07:27 pm at 7:27 pm |
  5. sbree

    did someone mention donald rumsfeld and diplomacy in the same sentence? unbelievable.

    March 26, 2014 07:28 pm at 7:28 pm |
  6. bcrunner

    I guess a trained ape would have done a better job than he did in Iraq and Afghanistan...

    March 26, 2014 07:28 pm at 7:28 pm |
  7. Hugenot

    We know that Rumsfeld is a war criminal. All he does is lie. Bush, Cheney, Rumfeld. All the same. They created the whole mess with Iraq and Afghanistan. Lies and deceit, left, right, and centre. He wouldn't negotiate, he would lie.

    March 26, 2014 07:32 pm at 7:32 pm |
  8. SteveS

    Gotta love the Rummy!
    Couldn't figure out how to deal with Iraq.
    Yet feels he is qualified to spout hot air on Afghanistan???

    March 26, 2014 07:35 pm at 7:35 pm |
  9. M James

    An angry, frustrated, twisted old man. I'll be glad when he's gone for good someday.

    March 26, 2014 07:37 pm at 7:37 pm |
  10. ja

    That mess belong Rumsfeld/Bush/Cheny, hand down, what do you do bomb them into submission

    March 26, 2014 07:38 pm at 7:38 pm |
  11. Crooked Bridge

    Who is smarter, a trained ape or a bitter and senile old man? I will go with the ape.

    March 26, 2014 07:39 pm at 7:39 pm |
  12. Carl, Secaucus, NJ

    I don't think Rumsfeld was trying to offend, but on the other hand, I don't exactly consider Rumsfeld to be the gold standard of wise defense policy decisions.

    March 26, 2014 07:46 pm at 7:46 pm |
  13. satch99

    Rumsefled, please do the workld a favor and kill yourself. You are a huge FAIL in evey sense of the word.
    Your Iraq management was a failure. You did not take accountability for the torture you and DICK and BUSH had our soldiers commit while you threw the little people (and the General) under the bus as scapegoats for carrying out torturous acts you ordered. You had no problem sending our troops to secure oil for your defense-stock-holding buddies.

    March 26, 2014 07:47 pm at 7:47 pm |
  14. TamaGuy

    Maybe he should of used one of his trained apes to find the WMD...

    March 26, 2014 07:47 pm at 7:47 pm |
  15. haw2002

    No, it's not racist. It's just stupid and ignorant. That this war criminal, who sent our soldiers to a useless war for oil ("with the army you have") and couldn't figure out how to win for losing, is still being interviewed and getting any attention at all, is matched only by the attention given to Sarah Palin. Everything he said was either wrong, stupidly inept, or an outright lie. And that was when he still had his (small) allotment of marbles. But now ?!

    March 26, 2014 07:50 pm at 7:50 pm |
  16. Mitch Stein

    No one needs to listen to the ramblings of an offensive war criminal. Donald Rumsfeld is a national cancer that needs to be excised. He, Dumbya, Cheney, Rove, Rice, and all of the other despicable vermin responsible for slaughtering well over 100,000 innocent Iraqi men, women and children in our name deserve nothing but to rot out their remaining utterly worthless days in an 8X8 cell for their crimes against humanity. Every day that these pieces of subhuman trash are allowed to roam free from incarceration is one more day that we as Americans should feel nothing but complete shame for our complicity in their war crimes.

    March 26, 2014 07:55 pm at 7:55 pm |
  17. Doug Depue

    What he meant to say was a Republican should have handled it..........

    March 26, 2014 07:56 pm at 7:56 pm |
  18. Nutjob

    Perhaps his buddy, Dick can chime in.

    March 26, 2014 07:56 pm at 7:56 pm |
  19. Expat American

    President Obama is on the right track; just as long as he does not repeat the same policies as were executed by the War Criminal and Mass Murderer Republican Administration of Bush, Cheney Rummy and co.

    March 26, 2014 07:58 pm at 7:58 pm |
  20. Rob

    Rumsfeld is right, except trained apes are smart. Barry 'Neville Chamberlain' Obama certainly has badly messed up relationships with Karzai and Putin that caused this mess. A community organizer on the world stage was a disaster waiting to happen. The only guy who is happy is Jimmy Carter, as we now have a worse President than him!

    March 26, 2014 07:59 pm at 7:59 pm |
  21. Liz the First

    This from a man who was part of the most evil regime this country ever suffered under. Bush and his minions lied us into a totally unjustified, illegal, wasteful war because Saddam messed with his daddy! this cretin has some nerve criticizing the actually elected president who's still trying to clean up his 'president's' messes! Obama's biggest mistake so far was not having those war criminals frog marched off the podium and onto a plane to the Hague at his first inauguration.

    March 26, 2014 08:00 pm at 8:00 pm |
  22. Anonymous

    That's why he got fired and Chaney too.

    March 26, 2014 08:02 pm at 8:02 pm |
  23. Trent

    Coming from the guy who botched the Iraq War, I can't really take his comments seriously.

    March 26, 2014 08:04 pm at 8:04 pm |
  24. John

    Right the first time

    March 26, 2014 08:05 pm at 8:05 pm |
  25. sammy

    May be a trained Ape would have provided a better intelligence during Rumsfeld's years.

    March 26, 2014 08:05 pm at 8:05 pm |
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