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. HEYDUDE

    Todays world. WOW, we are doomed to die a death due to PC.

    March 26, 2014 01:10 pm at 1:10 pm |
  2. go16rocketmail

    Hey there Don, weren't you the secretary of defense when 9/11 struck ?????? You did a bang up job defending the country you moron and now you're slamming Obama, REALLY ??????

    March 26, 2014 01:10 pm at 1:10 pm |
  3. Dennis

    It has been my experience while in the military that many things are made simple enough that a trained ape can do them, and all of us knew that WE were the trained apes. I have never heard the term used in any way associated with the color of someone's skin.

    March 26, 2014 01:10 pm at 1:10 pm |
  4. Tony

    Why would we ever listen to anything this liar has to say?

    March 26, 2014 01:10 pm at 1:10 pm |
  5. Tom in Desoto, TX

    Ah, the long shadow of republican racism cannot be hidden. Ole Rumsfeld did a bang up job in Afghanistan and Iraq! Remember him calling Iraq resistance dead-enders?. He was really describing himself and his 2 buddies He was one of the 3 Stooges from 2001 – 2009 along with George W and Dick. Of course, after the 2006 election Don left government hoping people wouldn't remember. Essentially, he wanted to be the first out of the burning building. He's talking from his sit-down.

    March 26, 2014 01:11 pm at 1:11 pm |
  6. Matt

    Of course the Bush administration (Rumsfield included) did a great job of diplomacy with Afghanistan and Iraq.

    March 26, 2014 01:11 pm at 1:11 pm |
  7. ditdahdit

    Oh those Republicans and their 'plausible deniability'. Ever so clever, unless of course they have to explain away the body counts caused by their half-truths and flim-flammery.

    March 26, 2014 01:11 pm at 1:11 pm |
  8. Funny Stuff

    The only rebuttals are the race card and "blah blah blah Bush". That's because it's difficult to dispute the truth.

    March 26, 2014 01:11 pm at 1:11 pm |
  9. Ramoe

    Still looking for those WMD's Donnie. Thousands of soldiers killed or wounded, an economy still suffering. For what? What a hypocrite. Please slither off somewhere and take Cheney and his ilk with you! Why do you still keep calling attention to yourself? You should be laying real low after your failures!

    March 26, 2014 01:12 pm at 1:12 pm |
  10. pootie tang

    Rumsfeld... Got NOTHING right! Remember when the Iraq war was going to last less than 6 months? Why is he still talking?

    March 26, 2014 01:12 pm at 1:12 pm |
  11. Matt

    Writergeek, you beat me to it. You speak the truth!

    March 26, 2014 01:12 pm at 1:12 pm |
  12. nwg6011

    At first, I assumed he was talking about Bush.
    But then I realized that he wasn't very well trained.

    March 26, 2014 01:12 pm at 1:12 pm |
  13. SB

    Are we really still listening to the man who was on watch during 9/11? Really? Seriously? I've got right wing friends who never even took him seriously! Good grief!

    March 26, 2014 01:13 pm at 1:13 pm |
  14. Thomas

    This coming from the Zombi King of WMD's and ten year war's .

    Sounds like something Heinrich Himmler would say , "trained ape".
    Former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld , NeoCon till the End$

    March 26, 2014 01:13 pm at 1:13 pm |
  15. P Herz

    Is this super smart guy repsonsible for Al Q aida's inception via CIA?

    March 26, 2014 01:13 pm at 1:13 pm |
  16. JimfromBham

    Rumsfeld ignored the recommendation from Army Chief of Staff GEN Shinseki that it would take 300,000+ troops to take and hold Iraq. Rumsfeld "knew" they only needed 140,000 – and that is the genesis of the "surge" which eventually occurred; i.e., to get the additional required manpower in country.

    Rumsfeld's judgment is very questionable.

    March 26, 2014 01:14 pm at 1:14 pm |
  17. gg

    The untrained ape Rumsfeld is a pathetic loser. You know... we start a war of choice with the military we have, not with the military we'd like to have...

    March 26, 2014 01:14 pm at 1:14 pm |
  18. not really news

    The same man who had a big hand in the evasion of Iraq and botched plan for Afghanistan is calling the current plan wrong? Does he remember how, under his watch, the focus of our military was on Iraq and allowed terrorist to regain control of Afghanistan ? This man is thinking and acting like a not so well trained ape.

    March 26, 2014 01:15 pm at 1:15 pm |
  19. Jimmy

    Very poor choice of words from someone who should know better. And if it is his age talking, then it is time for some quiet time.

    March 26, 2014 01:16 pm at 1:16 pm |
  20. PubliusK

    What is sad is that we do not bat any eyelash when a former Secretary of Defense (twice), former four term Congressman, former White House Chief of Staff, , etc. makes such an offensive, racist remark about a sitting President who has troops in harm's way. It has become okay to be racist again.

    March 26, 2014 01:16 pm at 1:16 pm |
  21. Quiet Profi

    Rummey is more worthless and even less American than Benedict Allen West and his Tea party traitors.

    his words mean nothing.

    March 26, 2014 01:17 pm at 1:17 pm |
  22. Jeff Cohee

    Rummy really isn't in a position to comment with credibility on anyone's performance after the lousy job he did as Secretary of Defense in the Bush Administration. They had to bounce him and bring in Gates to clean up the mess he made in Iraq.

    March 26, 2014 01:17 pm at 1:17 pm |
  23. Dan Gordon

    Sometimes the truth can get you in trouble.

    March 26, 2014 01:17 pm at 1:17 pm |
  24. byrdsoup

    Oh, yeah like Rumsfeld is a shining beacon of diplomacy. Ha ha ha

    March 26, 2014 01:17 pm at 1:17 pm |
  25. Wandering CPA

    Hard to get too excited about what Donald Rumsfeld says. The Iraq Study Group's conclusion that the war in Iraq is going badly and will get worse pretty says it all on his ability to lead in general and during wartime in particular.

    March 26, 2014 01:18 pm at 1:18 pm |
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