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. Anastasia Beaverhausen

    I don't think he was being racist, but it's irrelevant. The man was incompetent, that's what's important.

    March 26, 2014 03:04 pm at 3:04 pm |
  2. Rob

    Ray J just called a girl an ape but thats ok but a white person does it and its racist. Stop crying for once

    March 26, 2014 03:05 pm at 3:05 pm |
  3. beancounterz

    Rumsfeld is only trying to lower expectations of how difficult it would be to make an agreement so that he could "possibly" claim that the Bush administration could have done it...thus the ape comment is directed at Bush and Rumsfeld himself, rather than the Obama administration. He's just too stupid to understand that.

    March 26, 2014 03:05 pm at 3:05 pm |
  4. joeknows

    Well his Mother "the Trained Ape" should have told him and W that they should have put more resources in Afghan, instead of having all those American's killed in Iraq for nothing because a trained dog in a park could have figured that out

    March 26, 2014 03:05 pm at 3:05 pm |
  5. TheBob

    Obama did make one huge mistake: not bringing Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld, Rice and Powell to trial for war crimes.

    March 26, 2014 03:06 pm at 3:06 pm |
  6. Ramon F Herrera

    It is not the Conservatives' fault! They simply don't know any better. They throw peanuts to CNN camerawoman in their convention, etc., etc.

    We should feel sorry for them, it is a handicap.

    March 26, 2014 03:06 pm at 3:06 pm |
  7. Ted The Man

    If you look at him, he looks like an older ape.

    March 26, 2014 03:08 pm at 3:08 pm |
  8. NorCalMojo

    Pretty ironic considering that we're all trained apes.

    March 26, 2014 03:08 pm at 3:08 pm |
  9. midwest

    As the old saying goes..."Those who live in glass houses should not throw stones."

    March 26, 2014 03:09 pm at 3:09 pm |
  10. SteveOfTX

    If Donald Rumsfield thinks a "trained ape" could do a better job at foreign policy, maybe he should apply for the job of foreign policy adviser, based on his record in the Bush administration.

    March 26, 2014 03:09 pm at 3:09 pm |
  11. jonathanlk

    What does that make Dummy Rummy? I think he is the one who suggested to Bush on 9/11 "this is a good opportunity to go into Iraq". He also referred to our efforts in Afhganistan as 'peacekeeping' while it was really an 'occupation' to expire only after we completed building an oil pipeline traversing the country, which no Afghan wanted. Rumsfeld should stick to his old greasy communication methods. When he was secretary of defense his primate, I mean, primary skill was to say nothing when his mouth was moving.

    March 26, 2014 03:09 pm at 3:09 pm |
  12. Wake Up People! Many Rivers to cross.....

    Sorry Republicker.... It's just the opposite. Now people are actually seeing the term race card is a myth. With the election of the first black POTUS, the sheets have come off and many have been forced to see what they didn't see before. Or they pretended didn't exist.

    March 26, 2014 03:10 pm at 3:10 pm |
  13. JustBelieveIT

    This guy coming from the worst administration the U.S. ever had thinks he has a leg to stand on. A trained ape could have took what Clinton done and made the U.S. a lot richer instead in the hole trillions of dollars. But Bush and his war mongering cronies spent all the money on wars. Rumsfeld has been in too many corrupt administrations. Nixon, Bush Jr. This guy is still thinks he is living in the times of the cold war. We don't need guys like Rumsfeld who lust for war. We need smart people that change as the times change. Guys like Rumsfeld never change and stick with the same routine and at the same time line their pockets with money. You should look how much Rumsfeld made off with during the Bush Administration.

    March 26, 2014 03:11 pm at 3:11 pm |
  14. Deaner

    Rumsfield made millions of dollars during the whole bird-flu media hype in 2005. He was former chairman of Gilead Sciences – the maker of Tamiflu – and was still heavily invested. Not sure if a trained ape could be so shrewd, but a corrupt, immoral degenerate was.

    March 26, 2014 03:11 pm at 3:11 pm |
  15. Gary

    The mishandling of Karzai started when Bush put him into power.

    March 26, 2014 03:12 pm at 3:12 pm |
  16. Sal

    Like he still thinks the Iraq war was a good thing. It was the dumbest war to get into from the outset. He and gb and others pushed for that unnecessary war and Iraq today is not any better off than they were gw invaded that country, in fact Iraq is still a dangerous place. 2 el with gb, cheney, and the rest of those warmongers! 

    March 26, 2014 03:12 pm at 3:12 pm |
  17. Peter

    At the end of the day, it comes down to who the most horrible, heartless person on the face of this earth is.
    Rumsfeld or Cheney?

    March 26, 2014 03:13 pm at 3:13 pm |
  18. Steve from NH

    This from the idiot whose definition of 'diplomacy' is 'invasion', and couldn't do that right either. Like, at all. A trained Ape would've listened to the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs when he said it would take 350,000 troops to take over Iraq, Rummy (AKA dumber than an ape) figured it would take a few troops a few weeks, and all they had to do was kill 52 people , because that's how many cards there are in a deck. Stupid, stupid, stupid. If there is a bigger screwup than Rummy, the only candidate would be Cheney. The stench of the incompetency they employed in the "Liberation of Iraq", and the hole it has put this country in, and the limits on what we are able to do because of their ill conceived and plans-challenged little adventures will be with us for a generation.
    Guy has a lot of nerve, and not much in the way of brains.

    March 26, 2014 03:13 pm at 3:13 pm |
  19. dsrobins

    Rumsfeld was SECDEF when GWBush sent all the trained apes into Afghanistan and Iraq on a fool's mission. He should be arrested, tried and jailed for the war crimes they committed at his orders.

    March 26, 2014 03:14 pm at 3:14 pm |
  20. rover2

    a trained ape knows more than Rumsfeld......

    March 26, 2014 03:14 pm at 3:14 pm |
  21. Justin

    Some people are just devastated the 44th President is the best so far among all the rest...this country needs more diverse candidates and women for President. Just look where the 43 forerunners got us in 2008!

    March 26, 2014 03:14 pm at 3:14 pm |
  22. WardenX

    Cannot wait for the day when color is totally muted, and people don;t freak out over comments like this, or future presidents of color.

    March 26, 2014 03:14 pm at 3:14 pm |
  23. honeydaddio

    Why rumsfeld and others from the bush administration are not in jail for war crimes is beyond me. If the teapublicans take over the senate you can be sure the only thing this bunch of do nothings will do is attempt to impeach President Obama.

    March 26, 2014 03:14 pm at 3:14 pm |
  24. TAJ

    This is hilarious watching the libs go ape over Rumsfeld's comments. LOL!

    March 26, 2014 03:15 pm at 3:15 pm |
  25. mike w

    this from a man who willingly murdered American troops and innocent civilians over a lie – he ranks with the most heinous war criminal in history.

    March 26, 2014 03:15 pm at 3:15 pm |
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