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. SoSad

    Rumsfield, a failed example of a human. So long Rummy!

    March 26, 2014 05:21 pm at 5:21 pm |
  2. Hill William

    Hmm. Where did Rumsfeld get all this experience training apes?

    March 26, 2014 05:22 pm at 5:22 pm |
  3. timinfla

    He is absolutely correct, Obama and this administration is a complete disaster.

    March 26, 2014 05:23 pm at 5:23 pm |
  4. Kevin

    It's ok Donald, a trained ape can do better than most in Washington, yourself included. Glad to see your still modest these days you gimp.

    March 26, 2014 05:25 pm at 5:25 pm |
  5. EastCoast Mike

    What an absolute clown. History will not be kind to Rumsfeld and his war hungry posse.
    And talk about a trained ape? Could that be the way he felt about Bush who was pushed into two wars by he and Cheney?

    March 26, 2014 05:25 pm at 5:25 pm |
  6. John

    I will accept Rumsfeld's word that he didn't intend to refer to President Obama with his "trained ape" comment. I don't believe he didn't anticipate this reaction. What concerns me is that he. along with a host of other Republicans in recent weeks, made a comment of this sort despite it's obvious offensiveness. In other words, I believe he knew it would be taken the wrong way, knew it was offensive and would be seen as referring to the president, but he said it anyway. Sure, he didn't MEAN it to be taken that way, but he KNEW it would be, yet he still said it. Many in the USA on both sides of the aisle still have a huge problem with race. This event is symptomatic of that problem.

    March 26, 2014 05:26 pm at 5:26 pm |
  7. Smack A Moron Today


    Scooby DOo

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

    You must be referring to Clinton, Kerry and all the other liberal who supported the invasion based on the best intelligence we had at the time. Lets see gassed his own people, had tons of yellow cake, Ruskies moved WMD to
    Syria What else have you stupid liberals forgotten?.


    All those Lib-ruls who voted for war, did so because of the BAD intel given to them
    by the Bush Administration.
    Colin Powell admitted to LYING to the UN about it !
    Yellow Cake ?
    Nope None, ZERO !
    WMD moved to Syria ?
    Wow, Syria and Iraq where enemies at the time.

    You need to be De-programmed..

    March 26, 2014 05:27 pm at 5:27 pm |
  8. ATLJack

    A trained ape could have done a better job than Rumsfeld did in Iraq and Afghanistan. He wanted to invade Iraq because "there were no good targets in Afghanistan".

    The troops were poorly equipped and planning for the Iraq war was terrible. Rumsfeld took no responsibility for HIS las of leadership.

    4,400 American lives lost in Iraq. Over 30,000 wounded. Sad.

    March 26, 2014 05:27 pm at 5:27 pm |
  9. Babs

    Is he still alive?

    March 26, 2014 05:27 pm at 5:27 pm |
  10. ephemeroptera1

    As Sec of Defense, this was one of the most disliked individuals by many in the military. He has ZERO room to criticize ANYBODY when it comes to managing foreign policy. I do not believe anybody could recover from the blunders he left behind. And thanks for sending me and my reserve unit into Iraq (as part of the invasion force) with Vietnam era flake vests and not body armor.

    March 26, 2014 05:28 pm at 5:28 pm |
  11. JJ

    Ahh: Rumsfeld, the great diplomat himself, has spoken... (eye roll...)

    March 26, 2014 05:28 pm at 5:28 pm |
  12. omeany

    I'm never suprised by anything any member of the Bush Administration says. What does astonish me is that people listen to anything they have to say. We're still cleaning up from the wrecked economy and 2 unfunded wars they started.

    Here's a thought CNN...just because Rumsfeld, Cheney or any other sociopath from the Bush team says something doesn't mean you have to broadcast it.

    March 26, 2014 05:29 pm at 5:29 pm |
  13. Michman

    This guy ruined the country and a number of others. If anyone knows about what a trained ape would do, it is Rumsfeld.

    March 26, 2014 05:30 pm at 5:30 pm |
  14. WillyWalnuts

    He didn't call Obama an ape... he said an ape was smarter than Obama – big difference.

    March 26, 2014 05:31 pm at 5:31 pm |
  15. Todd

    Seriously? A guy whose idea of diplomacy was just sending in troops has an opinion on this topic? Holy cow...

    March 26, 2014 05:31 pm at 5:31 pm |
  16. Dennis


    This man is responsible for the single biggest blunder in the history of America's military. "We will be greeted as liberators". 10 years, 5,000+ dead American's 30,000+ wounded and injured, $3 Trillion + dollars later, and this moron still has the audacity to criticize other people's foreign policy. Smh...."

    Really???? Soooooooo Kennedy and Johnson get a pass on Bay of Pigs and Vietnam? Do you seriously believe anyone in the military believes you care about their losses. I guess if you have a (D) after your name, it doesn't matter how many military you get killed in your book?

    March 26, 2014 05:31 pm at 5:31 pm |
  17. Kenny

    A trained ape should have foreseen the disastrous effects of invading Iraq...even if you only count the US bodies lost there, a trained ape should have known we should not have been there; a trained ape would also not have made our forces stand down when they knew bin Laden was in Tora Bora...but the untrained ape approved it...

    March 26, 2014 05:33 pm at 5:33 pm |
  18. tanrah43

    Why do we have to listen to anyone that served in the bush administration? Rumsfeld, Rove and the rest of war mongers are the ones who created this mess then they have the audacity to criticize President Obama for having to deal with the mess they left and the messes they continue to create. .

    March 26, 2014 05:33 pm at 5:33 pm |
  19. yogi

    @Silence Do Good,the Bushs as Rumsfield can't travel because if caught by Interpol they'd face the ICC at the Hague,Netherlands..Yes ,over 100 countrys have signed warrents for Bushs, Rumsfields arrest for the lies and war in Iraq that killed thousands for just greed..Hey Silence ask Bushs,Rumsfield what happened to all the money sent over there to Iraq that disappeared ,just a few hundred million if I remember right that was never found...
    Absolutely, and then this war criminal opens his big mouth telling the President what to do, he has no shame, republicans have no shame. Vote them all out in the mid-term elections and in 2016, so we can move forward with civilization.

    March 26, 2014 05:33 pm at 5:33 pm |
  20. ca-jon

    But we don't want a status of forces agreement with those countries. We want to get out. Even a trained ape knows that.

    March 26, 2014 05:34 pm at 5:34 pm |
  21. Kelcy

    But hey..... Rumsfield was all fine in creating imaginary intelligence conclusions to going into a sovereign country illegally.

    March 26, 2014 05:34 pm at 5:34 pm |
  22. MariaMH

    So true, so true. What a weak president America has. Whether you agree or not, its not about your small invisible valueless opinion, it's about the opinion of the world stage. Diplomats around the world think Obama is weak and incompetent, it's them who matter not someone who is too much of a coward to see him for what he is.

    March 26, 2014 05:34 pm at 5:34 pm |
  23. Simon

    CNN why are you providing a sounding board for criminals?
    This man has no credibility.

    March 26, 2014 05:34 pm at 5:34 pm |
  24. Jim M

    Racist words, spoken by a politically powerfully individual who failed to serve his country honorable...

    March 26, 2014 05:36 pm at 5:36 pm |
  25. cjb

    It's not racial – he said it about hilary – it's about Obama's IQ level and it appears to be an accurate statement.

    March 26, 2014 05:38 pm at 5:38 pm |
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