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. realoldguy

    Here's another Republican genius in their own mind; the brilliant architect of two of the late 20th centuries wonderful wars-for-nothing.... and still on and on he gases on. Why don't people like this tool just fa... fa... fa... fade away into the obscurity they deserve?

    March 26, 2014 03:16 pm at 3:16 pm |
  2. Jme

    What did Rumsfeld say that was incorrect? He was obviously being very kind in light of the reality of what has and is happening.

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

    Great minds think alike: Ted Nugent; Dick Cheney; Donald Rumsfeld...

    March 26, 2014 03:17 pm at 3:17 pm |
  4. ART

    Really Rumsfeld how did that Shock and awe work for you couldn't find Osama, didn't find Sadam till more than a year after the "war" started. How does it feel to be responsible for all that unnecessary death and carnage. If I were religious I'd say a prayer for your evil soul, but alas I'am not so I won't .Oh and what about mission accomplished, I guess it wasn't really was it .Do America a favor and have the decency to fade away into obscurity

    March 26, 2014 03:17 pm at 3:17 pm |
  5. Louie

    Donald Rumsfeld and his cohorts should be tried as war criminals. Instead they collect hundreds of thousands as guest speakers for the companies they millions for. Hundreds of thousands of innocent men, women and children dead because of delusional ideology.

    March 26, 2014 03:17 pm at 3:17 pm |
  6. Steve

    Oh really, I rather doubt that is true. The whole problem with those that dislike or don't trust our President is because of his race. Many would argue that point and I have been a part in many of them but hate and racism generally runs too deep for those people to recognize or even understand their positions.
    This comes from a middle aged white guy too so don't even try and go there. Over and out!

    March 26, 2014 03:18 pm at 3:18 pm |
  7. ram

    I have a suggestion for him. You aren't part of things any more and botched enough while you were there. How about you stop talking and go find something useful to do? This isn't about you and I don't think many care what you think anyway.

    March 26, 2014 03:18 pm at 3:18 pm |
  8. Jeff

    Why is it that any time someone says monkey or ape, the liberal left automatically thinks it is a reference to Obama?

    March 26, 2014 03:19 pm at 3:19 pm |
  9. He's A Chronic Liar

    Don't get your panties all in a bunch, people, he wasn't talking about Obama – he said "trained."

    March 26, 2014 03:21 pm at 3:21 pm |
  10. James Ruston

    Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld-–9/11, Iraq, Afghanistan. Enough said.

    March 26, 2014 03:22 pm at 3:22 pm |
  11. Matthew

    Rumsfeld is AWESOME!

    March 26, 2014 03:22 pm at 3:22 pm |
  12. nonayerbiznez

    Why is anyone listening or interviewing Rumsfeld? Remember this is the guy who armed Sadam Hussein, then accused him of having WMD's as a ruse to invade Iraq. This man is a traitor. He caused his country to fall and his countrymen to be needlessly killed. Make some real news and try him, Chaney, Rice, Powell and Bush as traitors.

    March 26, 2014 03:23 pm at 3:23 pm |
  13. Bob

    No much to say about his performance in Iraq and Afghanistan.. the results speak for themselves..

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


    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.
    You're confusing politicians for pundits. Rumsfeld is, or was, an appointed official, a member of the White House administration. I don't recall Democrats, elected or appointed, current or former, ever referring to Bush as a chimpanzee. In fact, I don't recall hearing anything of that sort from anyone. If anything, it was that "Mad" magazine character, Alfred somebody.

    Besdies, neither your opinion, nor even mine, matter in how OTHERS feel about the comments. While you may not find the comments, many others did, present company included. If people were offended, then at least a courtesy apology is due from Rumsfeld. What does Rumsfeld do? He doubles down on the remark, going from bad to worse.

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

    Sure we believe you. The right wingers never fail to deliver the bigoted comments.

    March 26, 2014 03:25 pm at 3:25 pm |
  16. StevenR

    Mismanagement? Rumsfeld is and EXPERT on mismanagement. He is perhaps the ONE MAN most associated with everything that has been the most mismanaged in recent American history. Count it down: VIETNAM, IRAQ, AFGHANISTAN. If a relationship was mismanaged in the last 50 years, Rumsfeld is the one that mismanaged it. Really. Why in jeepers name would ANYONE listen to ANYTHING this ignoramus says?

    March 26, 2014 03:25 pm at 3:25 pm |
  17. ART

    People please ignore comments made by ancient Texan with any luck the old fart will drop dead soon

    March 26, 2014 03:27 pm at 3:27 pm |
  18. Seenu Subbu

    He meant George W Bush was the trained ape, they had trained him after all!

    March 26, 2014 03:27 pm at 3:27 pm |
  19. TerminalSanity

    Given that this arrogant criminally incompetent hack ignored every single member of the Joint chiefs of staff advise and insight, every single principle about successful occupation, and the common sense that it takes a massive amount of manpower and boots on the ground to rebuild/build an occupied nation infrastructure and then gradually hand the reins over to local officials, then had the stupidity to compounded things further by instigating an unnecessarily additional botched occupation in Iraq and capped that off off by initiating force reductions in the middle of those two botched occupations, I do believe that Mr. Rumsfeld has proven beyond any doubt soundly that a trained ape's opinion on this matter carries more weight and substance, and integrity than his ever could.

    This man ought to be to put in stocks packed into a crate and air dropped into the worst most unstable region of Afghanistan and if survives that ordeal the same process process should be repeated on this time in Iraq.

    March 26, 2014 03:27 pm at 3:27 pm |
  20. august43

    The comments of this guy and Dick Cheney, who were responsible for letting Afghanistan slide while going off on an unnecessary war in Iraq, remind me of what John Nance Garner said of the Vice Presidency – not worth a warm pitcher of spit.

    March 26, 2014 03:27 pm at 3:27 pm |
  21. Billy

    It is hard to take a comment on foreign or military policy serious from some such an abject failure at the two subjects.

    March 26, 2014 03:29 pm at 3:29 pm |
  22. HenryMason

    Rumsfeld really came out looking like a monkey's uncle on this one.
    The guy is senile and should just shut up.

    March 26, 2014 03:29 pm at 3:29 pm |
  23. Wake Up People! Many Rivers to cross.....

    Here we go with that tired line Rob. I guess you feel you should be able to call any black person whatever you want to huh?

    March 26, 2014 03:30 pm at 3:30 pm |
  24. BoFo

    I think Rumsfeld is a jerk, but anybody who tries to turn his "trained ape" comment into a racist remark is nothing but a certifiable race baiter.

    March 26, 2014 03:30 pm at 3:30 pm |
  25. mojoquasi

    Of course he didn't mean Obama. And we're all a bunch of idiots. At least Rumsfeld believes we are. The arrogance of this guy is colossal.

    March 26, 2014 03:30 pm at 3:30 pm |
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