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. Chris

    From the sound of the "trained apes", it appears that Hillary will be the next idiot in office.

    March 26, 2014 02:25 pm at 2:25 pm |
  2. GOP = Greed Over People

    Good job GOP! Keep that "outreach" program to minorities on the front burner and boiling, it certainly is working well for a party.

    The class's home work assignment, is to name the party, who benefits the most from this "outreach".

    March 26, 2014 02:25 pm at 2:25 pm |
  3. Ed

    Rumsfeld is and was always a Bush Sodomite

    March 26, 2014 02:25 pm at 2:25 pm |
  4. God

    So I got in a huge car wreck my car was basically totaled. I took the mechanic and he fixed it but yesterday the bumper fell off. So i decided to blame the car mechanic for my bumper falling off... Thanks obama.

    March 26, 2014 02:25 pm at 2:25 pm |
  5. luckytwo

    rummy and the that appointed him began a war built on LIES. Bush, Rummy and Chaney lied again and again about WMD. The relationship between the Bush admin and the AFGAN government was one of lies deceit and stupidty.
    Rummy is a to the USA as HILTER was to Germany .

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

    Well, he's probably right. A trained ape likely could do it. What's the big deal??

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

    How can this guy give any advice regarding foreign policy. The same with Dan Seymour.

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

    That's it, lefties, focus on Rumsfield's comment and ignore the completely botched foreign policy of this administration. From Syria to Russia, from Benghazi to Iran, we are losing ground, losing status, and losing respect. Bill Clinton was so right... Obama is an AMATUER!

    March 26, 2014 02:27 pm at 2:27 pm |
  9. Deserttrek

    so the probama folks are all upset that a person with more experience is critical of little barry ... wah wah wah
    nothing racist about the truth

    March 26, 2014 02:27 pm at 2:27 pm |
  10. LiberalsDestroyAmerica

    Why aren't all the liberals in jail for destroying America. What a pathetic bunch of individuals. All they can do is lie and blame when their arguments fail. The real racists in America are liberals.

    March 26, 2014 02:27 pm at 2:27 pm |
  11. Rudy NYC

    Sir Longfellow posted on page 12:

    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.
    Actually, Sir Longfellow, you would have to be a racist to not see it as a racist comment. You see, that's what passes for normal conversation among racists. A racist would think it's normal conversation, while everyone else is in shock and awe.

    March 26, 2014 02:28 pm at 2:28 pm |
  12. Thinker

    Ukraine should be known as Ukranistan. This newly created nation or Baby will be kicking in the belly of Russia. Look at India and Pakistan.

    March 26, 2014 02:28 pm at 2:28 pm |
  13. Booger

    Put a monocle on Rumsfeld and he looks just like Col. Klink from Hogan's Heroes...what a bumbling idiot!

    March 26, 2014 02:29 pm at 2:29 pm |
  14. Michael

    I seem to recall many on the left calling Bush Bush McHallibruton Chimpy. lol. Anyway, if you like your foreign policy you can keep your foreign policy.

    March 26, 2014 02:29 pm at 2:29 pm |
  15. david saint

    You just have to love how the Bush admin dolts have been coming out from under their rocks lately, acting as if they did something correct on foreign policy lol. Really guys, do we have to talk about "Curveball" again, or can you just fade away as you should?

    March 26, 2014 02:29 pm at 2:29 pm |
  16. DB Cooper

    Don Rumsfeld is a liar and a war criminal. Anyone who lends any sort of credence to any of his statements hasn't been paying very close since 2011. His comments on any aspect of politics are as irrelevant as he is.

    March 26, 2014 02:30 pm at 2:30 pm |
  17. rs

    "Trained Ape"- for those GOPpers too challenged to recognize raw, unbridled racism, is a completely inappropriate term for referring to anyone (especially by a junior league war criminal like Mr. Rumsfeld)- including the twice-elected President of the United States. You want proof of the GOP's racism? There it is!

    March 26, 2014 02:31 pm at 2:31 pm |
  18. Roger Huguez

    This is so simple, as far as I'm concerned. What, with the recent comments from Romney, the ever so often tongue wagging from Cheney and now this buffoon. What we have here are failures and losers with guilty consciences. Simple as that. Wouldn't it be nice if they would all just go back to the holes they crawled out of? Give 'em something to chew on.

    March 26, 2014 02:31 pm at 2:31 pm |
  19. DJS NJ

    Ape's are not that intelligent but can be trained to do menial tasks. I'm pretty sure his comment means he thinks the policy of the Admin is dumb. Not that obama is an ape... Simple, conspiritorial minds can twist anything into a tempest.

    March 26, 2014 02:32 pm at 2:32 pm |
  20. Jon

    I trained ape would have known that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction??? Then I guess it was a very stupid ape.

    March 26, 2014 02:33 pm at 2:33 pm |
  21. Edwin

    I did not see it as racist. A tremendous insult, yes. Inappropriate, certainly - it speaks to immaturity and a total disregard of the situation. But racist? Nope. We compared Bush to a chimpanzee fairly often, so calling Obama a trained ape is about the same.

    Of course, the people who called Bush a chimpanzee were not the sort of people who got media coverage, so this is different. If you are a person with authority or clout, ridiculing a sitting President weakens him. If Rumsfeld wanted a stronger response, it is hard to understand how he thinks weakening the President is the best way to do it… of course, this is the guy who did not understand why the Iraq war was not an easy victory, so perhaps he is not very good at thinking things through.

    March 26, 2014 02:33 pm at 2:33 pm |
  22. Tampa Tim

    We tried to go the untrained ape route, but we are all thankful he is back in Texas.

    March 26, 2014 02:33 pm at 2:33 pm |
  23. airjackie

    Donald Rumsfeld just publicly said what many Conservatives and other racist have been saying since Obama announced he was running for President in 2007. But in a way you have to feel back for the War Hawks, Cheney, Bush, Rice, Rumsfeld, McCain and Romney as Obama proved his is smarter and is a real leader. As Bush illegally invaded Iraq for oil and Rumsfeld ordered torture they got away with the War Crimes/Torture. Putin set back and watched and decided to do the same thing after seeing US dysfunctional Congress/Senate. But Putin did not expect the action of Obama who shut him and Russia out. Putin blocked US lawmakers from business/visits to Russia but their the ones like McCain who invest in Russia. Now countries are looking to get oil from other countries and eliminate Russia as Iraq is offering low rates for oil sales. Cheney is mad as he thought Iraq oil fields would belong to the US after the invasion. Yes today many Republican/Tea Party leaders and Billionaires are calling Obama names of racist hate because he proved to be wise and great at Foreign affairs. Romney still getting his advice from his lawyers.

    March 26, 2014 02:34 pm at 2:34 pm |
  24. AlGorelies

    I love rumsfeld.

    March 26, 2014 02:34 pm at 2:34 pm |
  25. Name Uche Agonsi

    The issue is whether the world is more peaceful now than under GWB. I say yes.

    March 26, 2014 02:34 pm at 2:34 pm |
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