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. waheid

    Rumsfeld is no longer relevant. Same applies to Cheney. At least George W. has had the good sense to keep his mouth shut. Rumsfeld and Cheney would do well to follow his example.

    March 26, 2014 03:51 pm at 3:51 pm |
  2. strugglewithgluten

    Funny coming from an untrained ape.

    March 26, 2014 03:51 pm at 3:51 pm |
  3. dave

    Why listen to anyone from the Bush administration?

    March 26, 2014 03:52 pm at 3:52 pm |
  4. Treppie

    Not a very intelligent man.

    March 26, 2014 03:52 pm at 3:52 pm |
  5. Dan

    I love how Rummy and Dick (Darth Vader) Cheney have the balls to criticize Obama on foreign policy. These are the two men that lied outright to get us into a war with Iraq. Never were able to find and kill Osama Bid Laden. Botch the aftermath of Afghanistan (creating the longest war the USA has ever had). And what did we get for the two wars in Iraq and Afghanistan? Over 3 trillion dollars of money spent (and counting). Death of thousands of troops and thousands more maimed. Increased hatred from muslim countries all around the world. Zero respect from our oldest and most powerful allies (remember when Donny called them "Old Europe"). Seriously, how do these guys sleep at night?

    March 26, 2014 03:53 pm at 3:53 pm |
  6. sbul

    I guess Rumsfield is about as good as a "Trained ape" as he believe the WMD in Iraq.

    March 26, 2014 03:53 pm at 3:53 pm |
  7. alanread1

    THIS is the same FOOL who decided to invade IRAQ with only 180,000 troops while his own GENERALS recommended DOUBLE THAT NUMBER! He will be remembered for making one of the greatest BLUNDERS in American military history!

    March 26, 2014 03:54 pm at 3:54 pm |
  8. Tony

    Liberals see racism everywhere because they WANT to see racism everywhere.

    March 26, 2014 03:54 pm at 3:54 pm |
  9. cal

    It appears that there is much more in the "things that he doesn't know" area than we first imagined. He always warned us about not knowing the unknowns; we just had no idea just how vast his lack of knowledge was.

    March 26, 2014 03:55 pm at 3:55 pm |
  10. strugglewithgluten

    By all accounts rummy lost his first war in the 70's and his 2nd war in iraq. Does anything think we "won" in iraq? If you do, then I suppose I don't get what a winning scenario is. It was a mess before we got there. Its a mess now that we're mostly gone. There were no WMDs before we got there. There's no WMDs now that we're gone. We didn't protect the people, we didn't protect their property. We didn't protect their heritage. But, we did try to get the oil flowing which was mostly a disaster. So, what exactly did rummy get out of iraq except dead american soldiers?

    March 26, 2014 03:56 pm at 3:56 pm |
  11. ItSoNlYmE

    Why does ANYONE care what Ronald Dumsfeld thinks or says? He had his chance and he blew it. And became a major war criminal in the process – one who needs to be deported to the Hague, tried as the war criminal he is, and put in a very low jail for the rest of his life. So Don, I really don't give a trained ape what you think.

    March 26, 2014 03:58 pm at 3:58 pm |
  12. Thomas

    As someone who works in Afghanistan and follows developments closely, and noting that the Council of Elders approved the SOFA, my observation is that the Administration was wildly successful in managing the relationship with the Real Afghanistan. It was the selection of Karzai, some years ago, that is the issue. For a "smart" man, Rumsfeld shows little insight or understanding of nuance. Maybe it's just a political thing.



    Karzai and his corrupt brother , not to mention there Iraqi counterparts , Ahmed Chalabi and his brother .

    Donald Rumsfeld sold America down the river and never looked back . NEOCONS

    March 26, 2014 03:59 pm at 3:59 pm |
  13. radar8

    So BUsh setting up Karzai was the way to do it right? Eh Rumsfeld? What a worthless human being.

    March 26, 2014 03:59 pm at 3:59 pm |
  14. bline

    Who would be a bigger expert on trained Apes than Rumsfield? He is speaking with great pride about what his fellow Apes can accomplish

    March 26, 2014 04:02 pm at 4:02 pm |
  15. mark

    Oh please liberal press. Your just defending your elected toad

    March 26, 2014 04:02 pm at 4:02 pm |
  16. CryBabies

    Everywhere you look........Whiney Crybabies!

    March 26, 2014 04:05 pm at 4:05 pm |
  17. TRC59

    Some people will complain at anything. Some folks need to get over themselves. Were you in as much of an uproar over Nick Cannon's stereotyping of white people?

    March 26, 2014 04:05 pm at 4:05 pm |
  18. newworldbs

    I think RUMSFIELD meant to say :



    March 26, 2014 04:05 pm at 4:05 pm |
  19. john west

    this man is in no position to judge the POTUS. in fact he has no credibility in anything.

    March 26, 2014 04:09 pm at 4:09 pm |
  20. visitor

    Sure our relationship was Karzai was good. He loved the billions we were pumping into that country so his family and a few friends could become multimillionaires while civilians were getting slaughtered by the dozens. We just love love love all that opium here in the cities.

    I'll bet our relationship with Halliburton was also good. Did Obama mess that up also? A trained monkey could hand over billions to Halliburton with no accountability. Where are all the trained monkeys?

    March 26, 2014 04:09 pm at 4:09 pm |
  21. Marc Wilson

    CNN shame on you. You go after Donald Rumsfeld, a guy I happen to not like, with a maybe, could have been, possibly racist reference. So, the story is very speculative. I don't believe he was being racist by the way. He is many many things and a clown in my book but this one looks to be an attempt at a story by CNN. Then you ignore BLATANT racist behavior by Nick Cannon with his Whiteface, "White People Party Music" racist outbursts. Did you ever consider reporting on the blatant racist right in front of you. I don't know how many more levels of racism that Nick Cannon can take it to before CNN takes notice. Non-whites can be as racist as they want to be? Is that the message? Not what I teach my children, that is for sure. I do a better job with my children than condoning racism of any kind.

    March 26, 2014 04:09 pm at 4:09 pm |
  22. BobC

    What is a "Known Known" is that Donald Rumsfeld is a self-serving, self-aggrandizing idiot, that has been "right" about nothing.

    March 26, 2014 04:11 pm at 4:11 pm |
  23. steve

    Let's see Rummy, two failed wars based on imaginary WMD costing billion+ $'s not to mention the lives lost all of which Obama had to clean up after. Oh yeah the economy completely collapsed to Great Depression levels in the last days you and Bush were in office. And then you make stupid, insulting comments like this.

    I honestly so want to vote for core republican values of days gone by – I really do – but every time I hear Palin or Rumsfield or [...the list goes on] I'm reminded what a bunch of childish fools they have shaping their values and I have to turn away. I'd vote for less spending, a balanced budget, and more personal responsibility in a second if it didn't come with all the other Republican baggage.

    March 26, 2014 04:11 pm at 4:11 pm |
  24. Demigod Vadik, CA

    Talking about failures... about that GW Bush foreign policy Mr. Rumsfeld???!!!'s like animal excrement calling latte disgusting...

    March 26, 2014 04:11 pm at 4:11 pm |
  25. sperry23

    Rumsfeld knows from apes. He behaved as one during 2 administrations. Why is this war criminal getting airtime?

    March 26, 2014 04:11 pm at 4:11 pm |
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