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. nevadaj

    Having spent so much time working around the drunken little bush, Rumsfeld should be considered an authority on the capabilities of a trained ape.

    March 26, 2014 03:41 pm at 3:41 pm |
  2. sim namore

    This man is a war criminal. He should be arrested for crimes against humanity, tried and hanged.

    March 26, 2014 03:42 pm at 3:42 pm |
  3. AC

    This fellow looks like the reincarnation of Hitler. Do you see it too ?

    March 26, 2014 03:42 pm at 3:42 pm |
  4. ca2011

    What I don't understand is why CNN or any other news network would give this war criminal a voice.

    March 26, 2014 03:42 pm at 3:42 pm |
  5. cerassie

    well, if a trained ape knew that iraq had wmd, but it turned out they did not have wmd, then i guess whoever said that must be an UNtrained ape!!!

    March 26, 2014 03:42 pm at 3:42 pm |
  6. pourmonamiJC

    Coming from the guy who invaded Irak for absolutely nothing since no WMD were ever found? Just go away, you've already killed enough Americans and Irakis.

    March 26, 2014 03:42 pm at 3:42 pm |
  7. William Astab

    Rummy likes the trained ape phrase a lot but look closely at him take his glasses off and let your imagination go wild.
    That is a trained ape. Seriously look closely

    March 26, 2014 03:42 pm at 3:42 pm |
  8. Malory Archer


    I bet the current administration hates it when Rumsfeld is right.


    Yeah, so why don't you get back to us when he IS right and we'll see?

    March 26, 2014 03:42 pm at 3:42 pm |
  9. sniffy45

    So PC geez, panty wearing population we have. He did not mean it as a racist slur, obviously....BUT, if he did, do you dispute it? I mean a monkey did fly into space and came back.

    March 26, 2014 03:43 pm at 3:43 pm |
  10. cp125

    We're just all so glad that his lapdog 'W" handled everything so well while he was at the helm.

    March 26, 2014 03:43 pm at 3:43 pm |
  11. AC

    Too bad we do not have procedures domestically for charges of War Crimes.

    March 26, 2014 03:44 pm at 3:44 pm |
  12. Malory Archer

    Tampa Tim

    Rummy sends our troops to war without body armor.


    And without chem suits and atropine.

    March 26, 2014 03:44 pm at 3:44 pm |
  13. AZ Dem

    "The pot calling the Kettle black!"

    March 26, 2014 03:44 pm at 3:44 pm |
  14. Ralph

    this from a guy... after 12 plus years ..and thousands of our young men and women sacrificed .... who said we would be out of there in a few months for 60 to 80 Billion

    He and Cheney should have had to live there until the war was over and pay up the difference......

    March 26, 2014 03:46 pm at 3:46 pm |
  15. Hogan's Goat

    He does speak for the low-rent trash of America, though. I am willing to accept him as their spokesman. He speaks with the true, authentic derp of a Ted Nugent diehard fan.

    March 26, 2014 03:46 pm at 3:46 pm |
  16. Doug

    I am a Obama supporter. I approve of the job he is doing. However, this is just ridiculous. Rumsfeld meant nothing by this.

    March 26, 2014 03:47 pm at 3:47 pm |
  17. SHAUN

    This traitor still alive?

    March 26, 2014 03:47 pm at 3:47 pm |
  18. qsmurf

    Can we just be rid of the warmongers for a change, please?

    March 26, 2014 03:47 pm at 3:47 pm |
  19. Malory Archer

    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.


    Good call Lenny! Between Dummy and Condescending (nobody could have imagined they'd use airplanes as weapons to attack us) Witch, the memories of those eight terrible years will start to trickle back into America's collective psyche, and they'll begin to wonder what the heck they were thinking by even considering crossing back over to the dark side this November.

    March 26, 2014 03:48 pm at 3:48 pm |
  20. Me

    It's a phrase the man uses...then those who heard it are the ones who really think that President Obama is an ape, so they squarely fitted Rumsfeld's comment on Obama's head...
    Did these people complaint when Rumsfeld used the same phrase when talking about Hillary?
    In heart, it's those who are protesting right now that are racists who are calling Obama an ape

    March 26, 2014 03:48 pm at 3:48 pm |
  21. SHAUN

    alive? how much does this word needs to be moderated cyborgs

    March 26, 2014 03:48 pm at 3:48 pm |
  22. veep

    A trained ape would know Mr. RUMSFELD was the most incompetent Secretary of Defense we have ever had.

    March 26, 2014 03:49 pm at 3:49 pm |
  23. joe

    I wonder who the racist REALLY is. The person who used the phrase "trained ape" or the people who translated that into "potus administration" ?

    March 26, 2014 03:50 pm at 3:50 pm |
  24. larkwoodgirl

    No failure the Obama administration could ever have would ever be bigger than Rumsfeld and George W invading Iraq.

    March 26, 2014 03:50 pm at 3:50 pm |
  25. jrm03063

    Donald Rumsfeld – the only man in America to have lost three wars – we're listening to him?

    March 26, 2014 03:50 pm at 3:50 pm |
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