Rumsfeld 'trained ape' comment stirs controversy
March 26th, 2014
11:40 AM ET
7 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. Lenny Pincus

    It doesn't stir controversy. It is a reminder that in the 2000's intellectual frauds helped drive this country into the ground, led by Dubya and assisted by idiots like Rummy.

    March 26, 2014 01:42 pm at 1:42 pm |
  2. mickinmd

    Considering how badly Rumsfeld did his job, it's amazing he thinks he can evaluate anyone else's performance. He may have a high IQ and he may know how do organize a department, but he obviously has an incredible lack of people skills and so much conceit he can't self-evaluate his own shortcomings. He thinks he can pass judgement on international diplomacy when he would have a hard time keeping order in a kindergarten class.

    March 26, 2014 01:42 pm at 1:42 pm |
  3. IReason

    This is a criminal that should be in prison. He is responsible for more pain and death than any other living human being. Look at his face and you see what evil looks like. Hitler would have loved this devil.

    March 26, 2014 01:42 pm at 1:42 pm |
  4. Hogan's Goat

    Take a good hard look, voters. They want to burn a cross on the White House lawn so badly they are wetting themselves with anger. They can't be trusted to run anything until they get right with God again and stop all this spewing hatred. I think we all know why Hillary is going to win; GOP voters afraid of their own party are going to quietly vote for her knowing she will at least not wreck things.

    March 26, 2014 01:42 pm at 1:42 pm |
  5. JPB

    Now there's the pot calling the kettle black (or a trained ape, or whatever.)

    Apparently Mr. Rumsfeld, there are many, many things that you "don't know you don't know" so please quit while you're behind but still barely in the rear view mirror.

    March 26, 2014 01:42 pm at 1:42 pm |
  6. Malory Archer


    Some ananymous people on Twitter played the race card on twitter and the usual suspects blame the "libruls". That is why our republic is slipping away and the crybaby losers blame President Obama.



    March 26, 2014 01:42 pm at 1:42 pm |
  7. Opal

    He is an idiot ... no respect .... Do they realize that foreign countries have more respect for our President, then those idiots that speak out against him. Look what they are teaching children to disrespect authoirty!!! What a shame. Seem as if they would have at least learn respect. A lot of the people under Former President Bush should have been placed on trial for lieing to the people .... costing billions of dollars and no amount can be put on the lives that was lost, Channey shoting someone in the face, and we suppose to believe it was an accident, again (Channey) people, leaking sensitive information, like when they reveal an operative that was working for our country. People in this country had better wake up, the republicans are going to take you social security away next.... you know how you allowed them to take food out of children's mouths!

    March 26, 2014 01:43 pm at 1:43 pm |
  8. peebo

    YEAH,.... i said it!

    I didn't used to be a racist..... Obama made me one!

    March 26, 2014 01:43 pm at 1:43 pm |
  9. Boo

    I really don't give a damn what this LIAR says or thinks about ANYTHING. How this man, Bush and Cheney sleep at night is mind-boggling.

    March 26, 2014 01:44 pm at 1:44 pm |
  10. Alan Fisher

    The mad Gorilla Rumsfeld and Master Ape Cheney are responsible for the reactions from their past actions. History is full of people like Stalin, Hussein, Hitler, Chan, Mussolini, But it does not mean we do not have Cheney and Rumsfeld and they are just as disgusting. We USA INVADEED Iraq under false pretense, So we are compromised in our reaction to Putin in Crimea.

    March 26, 2014 01:44 pm at 1:44 pm |
  11. wileysee

    A lot of people here are like either Bevis or Butthead saying 'he said ape'....snort, snort,tee hee! According to the PC police there are some words you can't use when there is any reference to Obama. Words you can use are 'he's great, what a man and he sends a shiver up my leg'.

    March 26, 2014 01:44 pm at 1:44 pm |
  12. jay hawk

    If this is so, than why did Donald mess things up when he was in control. Was he a trained ape also of Dick Cheney?

    March 26, 2014 01:45 pm at 1:45 pm |
  13. jesse

    What do people say when they get caught? Blah blah blah, he called me a name, that's what. Obama and his administration are terrible, they have upset foreign governments and tried to turn blacks and whites against each other. It's sad, very sad, that a once promising President has done little or nothing to help make America better. Instead he has turned most of us against each other, and created a bigger division between blacks and whites in this country and he has ruined foreign relationships. I ask myself everyday, do the Liberals really support a guy that invades the private lives of so many people and crosses the line constantly on privacy issues. I feel as though I am living in bizarro world sometimes.

    March 26, 2014 01:45 pm at 1:45 pm |
  14. Darlene

    Remember on 9/10/01 day before the 9/11 attacks...old rummy was telling Congress that while on his watch that the Defense Dept. had "lost" 2.5 TRILLION dollars?? Looks like we needed that "trained monkey" then but he was too busy playing cowboy in the White House.

    March 26, 2014 01:47 pm at 1:47 pm |
  15. tooquiet4me2005

    Well, SOMEBODY'S a 'trained ape,' but our President is not it....

    March 26, 2014 01:47 pm at 1:47 pm |
  16. rod

    I wish I could make nasty comments at my job and not worry about getting fired.

    March 26, 2014 01:48 pm at 1:48 pm |
  17. NoL

    HAHA, regardless of how President Obama wants to preside, it's funny how these aristocratic old white men show their true southun roots. They always show their true colors, you know the red and white one's...

    They are remnants of a more uncivilized time.

    A trained monkey? Insensitive to monkeys too!

    Now this human President on the other hand probably ignores this latest slap, it's just a shame that history will note that an African American President will never garner the respect of the position in America...

    March 26, 2014 01:48 pm at 1:48 pm |
  18. Tony

    A trained ape has better manners than Rumsfeld.

    March 26, 2014 01:48 pm at 1:48 pm |
  19. KBNJ

    I've heard Rumsfeld use the 'trained ape' line LONG before Obama was on the political scene at all.
    CNN: Stop the race baiting – it's getting old, and we're running out of words we CAN use without 'offending' anyone.

    March 26, 2014 01:48 pm at 1:48 pm |
  20. joshocom

    He's just jealous, because other apes got training, and he didn't.

    March 26, 2014 01:48 pm at 1:48 pm |
  21. Jose Ramirez

    Funny how the "Trainer" of the Bush Apes knows what he is talking about. Idiots!

    March 26, 2014 01:49 pm at 1:49 pm |
  22. WillB

    A trained ape can tell the difference between real intel and faked intel. But Cheney, Rumsfeld, and
    Rumsfelds entire staff (Wolfowitz Feist, etc.) could not….so what does that tell you.

    March 26, 2014 01:49 pm at 1:49 pm |
  23. David Dedo

    The criticism of the "emperor" is perhaps justified, but not from someone who's idea of "diplomacy" extended no further than "invasion."

    March 26, 2014 01:49 pm at 1:49 pm |
  24. Sparky

    LoL! Speaking of trained Apes

    March 26, 2014 01:50 pm at 1:50 pm |
  25. jack

    And trained apes could easily have done a better job then the whole Bush administration.

    March 26, 2014 01:50 pm at 1:50 pm |
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