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. BigSir

    When will that loser just shut up!

    March 26, 2014 04:28 pm at 4:28 pm |
  2. harvty

    The bottom line is that Obama's incompetence in foreign policy has resulted in more chaos and less stability. He is viewed as a weak, ineffectual leader and this has created a power vacuum for thugs such as Putin. But, go right ahead, Libbies, spin it, bring W into it; anything but look honestly at this community organizer in chief that is simply in over his head.

    March 26, 2014 04:28 pm at 4:28 pm |
  3. dsangiovanni

    Don't know how this guy can sleep at night ..

    March 26, 2014 04:28 pm at 4:28 pm |
  4. Arrakis

    Wait...Rumsfeld is talking about failed diplomacy?

    March 26, 2014 04:30 pm at 4:30 pm |
  5. giancarlo

    Really!!!!!!! coming from this idiot. Well even an untrained APE could of told this idiot that there were no weapons of mass destruction in Irag.

    March 26, 2014 04:32 pm at 4:32 pm |
  6. Smartdoctor

    As usual, Rumsfeld is right, and the thinned skinned liberals can't stomach reality. It is my humble opinion, no more nor less valid than theirs, that Obama is certainly LESS qualified than a trained ape would be to run the office of Presidency, however there is no factual evidence to suggest that he walks around in the Oval Office on his knuckles. There have been rumors, unsubstantiated of course, that he has repeatedly assumed such posture in bath houses in Chicago.

    March 26, 2014 04:33 pm at 4:33 pm |
  7. maggie

    It just demonstrates the total lack of class of this person. I won't call him a man, nor a trained ape, as he qualifies as neither.

    March 26, 2014 04:34 pm at 4:34 pm |
  8. AJinFLA

    Karzai was a trained ape, Rumsfeld's ape. George Bush looked into Putins eyes and "saw his soul,......... blah, blah. Yeah Donald you guys did a great job!

    March 26, 2014 04:34 pm at 4:34 pm |
  9. John Lubeck

    Rumsfield / diplomacy. Now that's an oxymoron.

    March 26, 2014 04:35 pm at 4:35 pm |
  10. FRumsfeld

    Forget the "ape" comment.
    This is the guy who engineered the very disaster he's complaining about.
    Shocking that the arsonist is blaming the fire department for the fire.

    March 26, 2014 04:36 pm at 4:36 pm |
  11. DJ

    This from a guy that ran the war in Iraq like an untrained ape, lying out of both sides of his mouth along the way.

    March 26, 2014 04:38 pm at 4:38 pm |
  12. Lewy

    Trained in what respect? Trained to read from a TelePrompter?

    March 26, 2014 04:38 pm at 4:38 pm |
  13. bcw

    Remember, over 4000 American young men and women died in Iraq and many more thousands Iraqi citizens killed in their country all becuase of a lie. Where is the WMD, Rumsfield? The ghosts of the soldiers and Iraqis should visit you every day and night and ask – WHY DID YOU DO THIS TO US?

    March 26, 2014 04:38 pm at 4:38 pm |
  14. Scooby DOo

    Would this be the same trained ape he said knew there were WMDs in Iraq before invading them?

    March 26, 2014 04:40 pm at 4:40 pm |
  15. Jashid

    What an idiot He is a war criminal

    March 26, 2014 04:42 pm at 4:42 pm |
  16. john

    I have no doubt a monkey could do a better job than that joke of a president in the white house. He has done nothing, he is cheif campigner he does not bring people together he pulls them apart. He says the tone needs to be more civil then goes on the road to attack the GOP. If monkey offend some then sorry a rat could do a better job than this lame president.

    March 26, 2014 04:42 pm at 4:42 pm |
  17. rl

    Not at all racist. Calling the Black guy a trained ape. Who is he tring to kid?

    March 26, 2014 04:42 pm at 4:42 pm |
  18. Altabound

    Trained apes shouldn't go around calling others "trained apes".

    March 26, 2014 04:44 pm at 4:44 pm |
  19. henriette

    Merely because Rumsfeld kept saying Saddam had WMDs, and both Republicans and Democrats voted to invade, doesn't necessarily mean they believed what they were saying.

    March 26, 2014 04:44 pm at 4:44 pm |
  20. Meta Shepherd

    Another bought and paid for Republican who should fade into obscurity. Yuck and ick.

    March 26, 2014 04:45 pm at 4:45 pm |
  21. guest

    Wow I see a lot of very misinformed posts here criticizing Rumsfeld. You people really have no idea what it takes to defend a country. When will you realize the world does not play by your/our rules. Not everyone plays nice. That is exactly why you need people with STONES to stand up to people like Putin. Putin didn't screw with Bush. He knew that Bush did not f around. No one thinks that way when it comes to Obama. You idiots need to open up a book, study a little bit about geo politics and war.

    There will never be true peace on Earth. Give it up already. You put more people at risk by avoiding war (see WWII) by advocating your ridiculous appeasement strategies.

    I salute Rumsfeld for his service to this nation.

    March 26, 2014 04:46 pm at 4:46 pm |
  22. futureman1

    The only word that can apply to Rumsfeld and that whole crowd is sociopath.

    March 26, 2014 04:46 pm at 4:46 pm |
  23. Trained

    Why are people still interviewing this guy even a trained ape knows very little is gained, intellectually speaking, when talking to an ass and even an untrained ape knows a toboggan is not necessary to go downhill.

    March 26, 2014 04:47 pm at 4:47 pm |
  24. Rachel

    Rummy is right about Obama. Obama blowz big time.

    March 26, 2014 04:47 pm at 4:47 pm |
  25. Stephan

    What would you expect from a lying, self serving individual who along with many on the Bush administration ducked compulsory military duty?

    March 26, 2014 04:48 pm at 4:48 pm |
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