Rumsfeld 'trained ape' comment stirs controversy
March 26th, 2014
11:40 AM ET
4 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. shawn l

    How well exactly did the Bush administration deal with anything diplomatically in the 8 years they were in power? They managed to squander the good will of an entire planet to accomplish nothing but trillions of debt in two wars.

    March 27, 2014 12:31 am at 12:31 am |
  2. Coley

    Shut up Rumsfeld, you had your chance to screw up the United States and did a great job of it. Now, it's someone else's turn. So, go back to whatever hole you've been hiding in....

    March 27, 2014 12:33 am at 12:33 am |
  3. Loathstheright

    Yeah, we see how well things went with Rumsfeld and the rest of the Bush war criminals...

    March 27, 2014 12:39 am at 12:39 am |
  4. Jl Taylor

    This country will only get back on track if the republicans regain control. We must all look back with rainbows in our eyes
    at the peroid 2000 to 2008. How could we forget 911, 2 wars, The near collapse of our banking system and loosing over
    700,000.00 jobs per month. I can 't wait until the God loving health care for the poor hating republicans are back in control.

    March 27, 2014 12:42 am at 12:42 am |
  5. Coolvfx

    I bet a trained ape could get to the bananas dangling from the ceiling before Rummy could

    March 27, 2014 12:59 am at 12:59 am |
  6. Anonymous

    When your chief of staff is the type of dolt that expresses himself with terms like "epic fail", you've pretty much demonstrated yourself to be intellectually lazy and insignificant.

    March 27, 2014 01:12 am at 1:12 am |
  7. RandyKC

    And Rumsfeld finally passed into irrelevance...wait for it....now.

    March 27, 2014 01:20 am at 1:20 am |
  8. Nick

    When your Chief of Staff exposes himself as a mindless dolt by choosing to express himself with mindless terms like "epic fail", you've admitted that you have given up any intellectual integrity in the discussion. Rumsfeld may want to avoid bringing up trained apes, because trained apes are clearly more intellectual than his staff.

    March 27, 2014 01:20 am at 1:20 am |
  9. grover6

    It is very known we went to war in Iraq due to Ape theory, that Iraq had oil, and Oil meant money for the 1%, therefore the poor of this country were going to have to go to war in order for the 1% to further prosper. Now we see the results of that. Multiple contracts for oil money coming out of Iraq. Then into Afghanistan too contracts for Oil as well. I wonder, what kind of relationships are there between the 1% here and the 1% over in Russia, and is this Crimea activity related to purposeful activity, in order to distract us from something else! Some purposeful re-focus of directing large fathoms of even more money from large countries around the world into the hands of multiple regional 1% unions not only here but around the world! Interesting, further ape training, as we are supposed to be distracted by all this talk while the 1% continue to make money off this type of stuff!
    Grover6

    March 27, 2014 01:26 am at 1:26 am |
  10. Bubba

    The GOP can only hope to one day achieve the mental abilities of a "trained ape". The GOP is currently somewhere between crustaceans and invertebrates on the intelligence scale.

    March 27, 2014 01:56 am at 1:56 am |
  11. Mr. Right

    It does not take a genius to handle it! Was he referring to the pervious president ? Oh shame on you!

    March 27, 2014 02:01 am at 2:01 am |
  12. Benjamin Faith

    Rumsfeldt hope you remember how you guys treated General Collin Powell, an all American Soldier known for intergrity and bravery! How many Lives and money did your mismanagement of the Iraq war cost? Your palpable appetite for supremacy and domination! Are you aware how many enemies you were breeding whilst still in office.
    You have an unpleasant streak in you Sir. It refuses to die. Some Folks might argue otherwise, but Sir please guard your comments, since you a Man of standing in society.

    March 27, 2014 02:19 am at 2:19 am |
  13. DS

    Okay, first off, he said a "trained ape" could do it, while implying Obama cannot do it. That means by definition Obama is NOT the ape in Rumsfeld's view. Repeat: NOT the ape.

    Second, anyone supporting Obama at this point just needs to come to grips with reality. This is what happens when you hire an unqualified person to be President.

    Let's all just move on and hope we can elect someone better in 2016.

    March 27, 2014 02:20 am at 2:20 am |
  14. chris e.

    I'm no fan of Rummy at all, but his comments are spot-on. Of course, with a half-black President, the convenient tool of shouting "Racism" wherever it doesn't dwell will prevail, regardless of how crappy a job Dear Leader is doing. It's beyond old, and it was way before this point.

    March 27, 2014 02:42 am at 2:42 am |
  15. David B

    Rumsfield, Bush, Bohener, NIxon, Hoover, and Reagan are responsible for Ruining America through Corporate Welfare, War & Criminal activity far beyond most peoples comprehension. War Criminal talking about Apes. Uh Huh...

    March 27, 2014 02:46 am at 2:46 am |
  16. David Callard

    Rumsfeld is certainly qualified to speak on "trained apes". Yes, the Iraq war was a fine example of diplomacy wasn't it? And the only reason the Bush administration got on with Karzai was because they turned a blind eye to the endemic corruption of that regime but any ape would know that.

    March 27, 2014 02:54 am at 2:54 am |
  17. r

    People of the United States of America... You have been fooled... The government has convinced you, rather, the media has convinced you, and myself, that our petty 'feelings" about this and that will sway their opinions... However, with the recent and not so recent supreme court decision that says that corporations money is as people's money, people are corporations and vice-versa, the political map has been drawn and we are not allowed on it, except as collateral damage.
    So, if you have not heard, we are pretty close, if not already, a fascist nation. It is evident with the types of governments we support, our elite support. Duh! Oh, and yes Rumsfield is the most fascist of them all.. You think he would have had his position in government if he did not have his position at a major pharmaceutical company before hand? Also, because I highly doubt anyone is reading this, do you think they give a care?

    March 27, 2014 03:17 am at 3:17 am |
  18. sybil

    Rumsfeld's comment, "I personally sympathize with him (Karzai) to some extent" is applauded by the neo-cons. But those same neo-cons were in a rage at Bill Maher's comment that the 9/11 pilots "were...albeit perverted...brave". They can dish it out but can't take it themselves.

    March 27, 2014 03:57 am at 3:57 am |
  19. myway

    A trained ape could have done a better job as SOD when Rumsfeld was in office. He allowed Iraq to get looted and fired the Iraqi military creating an enemy he and others had to spend years to fight, not to mention the loss of blood and treasure. Mr. Rumsfeld, you'd be better off sitting quietly in your corner letting the grown ups clean up your mess.

    March 27, 2014 04:00 am at 4:00 am |
  20. Bob

    Rumsfeld you are 100% correct!

    March 27, 2014 04:44 am at 4:44 am |
  21. Thomas Ma

    There is no need to make the Trained Ape a race issue. Do not use race to deflect the criticism. There was no referenced to the color of the ape. I am not a Rumsfeld backer, but I don't think he restrict the Trained Ape to any one race. People who support the foreign policy of the administration where US troops are stationed in Afghan but their leader publicly sides with our opponent should ask themselves what is the policy that you are supporting. If the leader of the country that we are sending troops to protect is siding with our opponent, why do we still have troops there? These supporter of the current administration should ask themselves if they are supporting any particular policy or if their support are based on race.

    March 27, 2014 04:53 am at 4:53 am |
  22. Grah

    Why does a half-wit like Rummy even get press coverage these days? He is nothing but a commentary whore for Fox.

    March 27, 2014 05:07 am at 5:07 am |
  23. Mystery

    Where was Rumsfeld
    During the 9/11 Attacks?

    "We investigated very carefully Mr. Rumsfeld's actions," said Hamilton. "He was having breakfast with Congressional leaders, and they hear a plane has hit the Pentagon, and he runs out."

    "He had to have been told before the Pentagon was hit that two trade centers were hit and the country was under attack," I suggested.

    Was the commission comfortable with the fact that the country's Secretary of Defense was not in the chain of command or present in the Pentagon's command center until all four suicide hijacked planes were down?

    March 27, 2014 05:22 am at 5:22 am |
  24. NonPartisan

    Republicans and Democrats aside, does anyone else find it ironic that the Afghans are siding with the Russians. These people really do have short memories.

    March 27, 2014 05:30 am at 5:30 am |
  25. Peter

    Rumsfeld sure has some nerve stating the comments he did about another presidential administration when he has gone down in U.S. history to be the worst Secretary of Defense. The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan were initiated by the administration Rumsfeld served in. He sent soldiers to war that were not properly equipped and without a plan to secure the countries after we invaded them. President Bush, Dick Cheney and Rumsfeld's legacy from the mess they created are thousands upon thousands of dead and wounded U.S. and Nato soldiers, in addition to all of the native innocent women and children killed by their war machine that made them billions of dollars thanks to Dick Cheney and KBR Halliburton contractor.

    March 27, 2014 05:35 am at 5:35 am |
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