Rumsfeld 'trained ape' comment stirs controversy
March 26th, 2014
11:40 AM ET
9 years 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.

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"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. Rachel

    This only stirs controversy to the liberals because they find everything racist. It's in their play book in order to demonize the opposition at any cost.

    March 27, 2014 07:46 am at 7:46 am |
  2. tricky_dick

    "Eight retired generals and admirals called for Rumsfeld to resign in early 2006 in what was called the "Generals Revolt", accusing him of "abysmal" military planning and lack of strategic competence"

    The guy was basically fired for incompetence. The Republicans at the time had really soured on him. They wanted him gone. Many credited him for loosing the house and senate to the democrats during the 2006 elections. Bush only got rid of him after these elections. His party went ballistic when that happened, believing they would have won more seats if he had been canned earlier.

    But then here he is back again. I'm sure the republicans are listening to what he has to say. "Dah, tell me more Oh great sage." The Alzheimer's party at its finest.

    But then, the Republicans would probably praise Osama Bin Laden, if that guy were to somehow crawl out of his watery grave and start bashing Obama.

    March 27, 2014 07:48 am at 7:48 am |
  3. SBP

    Yeah, elderly people repeat themselves a lot.

    March 27, 2014 07:54 am at 7:54 am |
  4. William Shelton

    And this, from the guy who thought invading Iraq on false pretenses was a good idea? Yeah, right.

    March 27, 2014 07:54 am at 7:54 am |
  5. Richard

    His race huh? Apparently not out of kindergarten yet. Who cares but kindergarteners.

    March 27, 2014 07:56 am at 7:56 am |
  6. Anonymous

    Rummy has zero credibility. He only references trained apes because he's had a ton of recent experience working with one.

    March 27, 2014 07:58 am at 7:58 am |
  7. dondiego

    Just a few Rumsfelt quotes regarding the war in Iraq:

    11/15/2002, Donald Rumsfeld, Secretary of Defense

    "Five days or five months, but it certainly isn't going to last longer."

    01/10/2003, Donald Rumsfeld, Secretary of Defense

    "... something under $50 billion for the cost. How much of that would be the U.S. burden, and how much would be other countries, is an open question.”

    03/30/2003, Donald Rumsfeld, Secretary of Defense

    "We know where they are [Iraq's weapons of mass destruction]. They're in the area around Tikrit and Baghdad and east, west, south and north somewhat."

    March 27, 2014 07:59 am at 7:59 am |
  8. jillib

    Seriously? The man who led and lied this nation into it's greatest foreign policy disaster is criticizing Obama? That takes some cojones.

    March 27, 2014 08:01 am at 8:01 am |
  9. jillib


    "Rumsfeld has always been refreshing in his openness even when it got him in trouble."

    You can't possibly be serious.

    March 27, 2014 08:03 am at 8:03 am |
  10. scanboy

    Show me that photo of Rumsfeld shaking hands with Saddam Hussein one more time.

    March 27, 2014 08:03 am at 8:03 am |
  11. GetItRight

    A trained ape knows the difference between 'then' and 'than', and proper grammatical use of both.

    March 27, 2014 08:05 am at 8:05 am |
  12. prolowe

    Barrack did get Osama Bin ape trained or otherwise in his administration did that. He is like a turd. he just sits there and stinks.

    March 27, 2014 08:12 am at 8:12 am |
  13. Thinker

    Rumsfeld and Dirty Dick Cheney for time like this. They know how to start a war. They have proven track record.

    March 27, 2014 08:17 am at 8:17 am |
  14. peorian

    If Rumsfeld and Chaney did not exist the US will not have the Iraq problem, with billions spent of our taxes and thousands of lost lives. Our concern about Iran could have been much less since Sadam will be at War with them. If we focused on
    catching Bin laden in Afghanistan and on the boarders of Pakistan, we would not be occupying the country.This two warmongering evils are a curse to America They should be tried at the Hague for crimes against Humanity.

    March 27, 2014 08:19 am at 8:19 am |
  15. Ben

    So, Rumsfeld uses a well-known, non-racial turn of phrase to describe a situation in which a person is doing a bad job (used to describe people regardless of race)...and boom!!! Harry Reed makes comments about Obama being articulate enough to be ok with whites and black enough for the inner city (the classic, racist house N argument versus the idea of tent preacher, snake oil salesmen black politician...clearly and unavoidably racist...still, years later, nothing. So, why is this more of a story???

    March 27, 2014 08:20 am at 8:20 am |
  16. Al

    Trained Apes? What a joke you are DR. You and your idiots ran those wars like a bull...ape in a china shop. If your sons and daughters were serving I guarantee you would not have been so reckless. How dear you think that the American people have forgot. If we leave these country without a sof agreement so be it.

    March 27, 2014 08:20 am at 8:20 am |
  17. John

    Libs will jump on any comment to try to deflect from real issues. What will they call this one "war on apes"?
    Hey libs – how is that hopey changey thing working out for you??

    March 27, 2014 08:21 am at 8:21 am |
  18. Tom

    Rumsfeld Follies....this guy has no credibility.

    March 27, 2014 08:24 am at 8:24 am |
  19. Fedweb

    Excuse me, but it was Bush and not Obama who failed to secure the SOFA with Iraq. It was negotiated and completed before the 2008 election and Obama had nothing to do with it.

    March 27, 2014 08:24 am at 8:24 am |
  20. Jessica McGwin

    Mr Rumsfeld it is not nice to insult the animal kingdom like that. Every Ape on the planet trained or wild is insulted with the comparison. I want you to apologize to the Ape community.

    March 27, 2014 08:29 am at 8:29 am |
  21. Jack V

    Wasn't this a guy that got fired for his handling of a war?

    March 27, 2014 08:31 am at 8:31 am |
  22. steve coster

    Unfortunately, we are fresh out of "trained" apes...

    March 27, 2014 08:32 am at 8:32 am |
  23. yoshimoto

    ohhh geez, here we go again....

    March 27, 2014 08:33 am at 8:33 am |
  24. UScitizen

    completely True. Apes are far better than the current adminstartion. This country and it working middle class are completly in turnmoil because of the incompetent govt. Foreign workers are dumped into this country on a daily basis, on all sorts visa's like B1/L1/H1 with no oversight and control with cheap wages, still he want to do immigration reform to dump more workforce into already strained economy and labor market. This is a hell for US citizens.

    March 27, 2014 08:36 am at 8:36 am |
  25. Reality Check

    So what Rumsfeld was trying to say is that even the Bush administration and himself could have pulled this off. When his final acts of power in this world were used to pull off the acts that led to two wars we didn't belong in for any reason and pushing us into one of the biggest recessions of all time, its really comical to see a comment like this come from him. He was part of the worst presidency and last Republican Presidential term of all time. He played a huge role in assuring the Republican party never holds the office of President ever again. Go off into the sunset Rumsfeld...your days of relevance are over.

    March 27, 2014 08:38 am at 8:38 am |
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