Rumsfeld 'trained ape' comment stirs controversy
March 26th, 2014
11:40 AM ET
6 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.

"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. Mike

    Rumsfeld & Company screwed up so bad, I can't believe they are critiquing others.

    March 26, 2014 01:58 pm at 1:58 pm |
  2. gobsmacked

    I have no love for Rumsfeld, believe me, but I see no racism here. It is a commonly used phrase in may situations. I give him a pass with this one. When a racist remark needs to be called out as such, I am as quick to do so as anyone. This one just seems like a big stretch to me.

    March 26, 2014 01:59 pm at 1:59 pm |
  3. Sir Longfellow

    Only a racist would take that comment as a racist comment. You have to have nothing but hatred in your heart to see hatred everywhere.

    March 26, 2014 02:00 pm at 2:00 pm |
  4. reason1265

    Well coming from a war criminal and war monger like rummy, we should all stop and take notice. what a knuckle head

    March 26, 2014 02:00 pm at 2:00 pm |
  5. AndyDaniel

    We all have the right to our opinion and to public agree or disagree with the President. But for a former high government official to use immature insulting language about the current administration to try to further hurt the President's standing speaks far more about himself that about the President.

    March 26, 2014 02:00 pm at 2:00 pm |
  6. moe

    Rumsfeld is a racist, and rightly identifies himself by calling commenting in the most crudest way about a sitting President. Shame on him

    March 26, 2014 02:00 pm at 2:00 pm |
  7. gopdumpsterfire

    The only thing Rumsfeld ever said that was amusing was him mumbling how we all didn't understand when Bush through him under the bus during that press conference after the 2006 election.

    March 26, 2014 02:01 pm at 2:01 pm |
  8. JLR

    How much credibility are we supposed to lend to someone who gave us two, ten-year wars?

    March 26, 2014 02:01 pm at 2:01 pm |
  9. sheltonpatricia

    Why is anyone asking that idiot any questions? Why does anyone care what that idiot has to say? Rumsfeld is one of many in the Bush administration that lied about why we were invading Iraq. One of many that signed off on the use of torture. The Bush administration used force to get what it wanted – Obama actually uses diplomacy and diplomacy does not always get what one side wants. The Bush administration was the equivalent of the global ‘bully’ so of course Rumsfeld would be clueless of what an administration truly needs to do and the methods needed.

    March 26, 2014 02:01 pm at 2:01 pm |
  10. A P Edward

    Rumsfeld is lucky he is not in jail for war crimes. some people can never learn to ride off into the sunset and be happy. Although I don't know how he sleeps at night. I know I couldn't after seeing so many lives destroyed by his inepitude. H e should be ashamed of himself for causing so much destruction to so many people. WMD what a dreamer.

    March 26, 2014 02:01 pm at 2:01 pm |
  11. gopdumpsterfire

    Maybe the Obama administration wouldn't be dealing with Afghanistan if Rummy hadn't screwed up Iraq.

    March 26, 2014 02:01 pm at 2:01 pm |
  12. Larry L

    @Irrational Exuberance

    "many took his "ape" comment as an offensive reference to the President's race."
    Tea Party rallies commonly had signs of apes drawn to resemble the President – along with racist comments. They were published widely in the media. You may be tired of what you call "race baiting" but decent Americans are tired of the racism we see from the right-wing.

    March 26, 2014 02:02 pm at 2:02 pm |
  13. reason1265

    and the war criminal crawl form beneath his rock and speaks.......just go away rummy and be glad your not in prison

    March 26, 2014 02:02 pm at 2:02 pm |
  14. squiggs

    As an African American what I find more appalling than the ape comment is that one of the architects of the biggest foreign policy mistake and lies thinks that someone should care what he has to say on foreign ploicy. Rumsfeld and Cheney should start a stand up comedy routine.

    March 26, 2014 02:03 pm at 2:03 pm |
  15. Cascade

    Rumsfeld is a joke by any standard. A liar and a coward. Why is he still talking?

    March 26, 2014 02:03 pm at 2:03 pm |
  16. Anonymous

    Rumsfeld and Cheney need live side by side, so they can have each other to talk and listen to, and leave the rest of the world alone.

    March 26, 2014 02:03 pm at 2:03 pm |
  17. David

    The people calling Rumsfeld's statement racist are the same people who want everyone to be more open-minded about everything in our society. I guess "everything" only refers to those things they support. They're also the same people who play the race card in every single opportunity they get, and the same people who will criticize this comment as somehow wrong, even though it is my opinion only, and one that I have every right to make. How pathetically hypocritical.

    March 26, 2014 02:04 pm at 2:04 pm |
  18. CosmicC

    Rumsfeld was one of the authors of a white paper advocating for global dominance by the US through displays of military might. He, along with Cheney and Ashcroft, presented Clinton with the white paper almost 20 years ago. Clinton ignored it. They got Bush to try to implementHis view of "diplomacy" involves the active use of military to threaten the rest of the world.

    March 26, 2014 02:04 pm at 2:04 pm |
  19. gbmiami

    Anyone trying to find racism in Rumsfeld comments is a racist themselves. So tired of the Liberal tyrants trying to inject racism into everything.

    March 26, 2014 02:04 pm at 2:04 pm |
  20. tor5

    This will only add to Rumsfeld's legacy as an unabashed buffoon and an utterly disastrous Sec. of Defense.

    March 26, 2014 02:04 pm at 2:04 pm |
  21. nwg6011

    At first I thought he was talking about Bush. Then I realized that Bush wasn't trained.

    March 26, 2014 02:05 pm at 2:05 pm |
  22. Dean

    He should have said "trained community organizer..."

    March 26, 2014 02:05 pm at 2:05 pm |
  23. gbmiami

    Liberals are grasping at straws, and they are the true party of racism. They keep racism alive. If it weren't for Liberals, racism wouldn't exist. But count on them to find it, even if they have to make it up.

    March 26, 2014 02:06 pm at 2:06 pm |
  24. What a load of Divas

    Get a life you liberals.........since when does "trained ape" means Obama particularly????? He HAS made a complete mess of everything he touches. I'm afraid with you people the TRUTH HURTS!
    He's called 50 times worse than that every day by millions of people! Get over yourselves!

    March 26, 2014 02:06 pm at 2:06 pm |
  25. gramma nance

    Gee, it's been nice not to see Rummy, Cheney and company in the news lately. And this hateful comment has served it's got his FACE in the news again! He misses the limelight, that's all.

    March 26, 2014 02:06 pm at 2:06 pm |
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