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. Quang Van Le

    This individual has the balls to criticize the Obama administration given the disastrous Iraqi war efforts which he led and the hysteria atmosphere after 9/11 which he helped created. Subtle racism is racism, Donald !

    March 26, 2014 05:39 pm at 5:39 pm |
  2. Mancee Grayce

    I am soooooo bloody ill from the faux news spouting, Guns Over People bigots who can't accept the presence of a brown skinned man in the white house. Your dog whistle racism is not fooling anyone!

    March 26, 2014 05:41 pm at 5:41 pm |
  3. Robyn Guimont

    I don't think Rumsfeld meant anything racist by his 'trained ape' comment – it is a common term among people his age and refers not to race but to ability. That being said, I do take offense at his smugness when it comes to how to handle foreign affairs. His way was war, war and more war. The man is a disgusting chickenhawk.

    March 26, 2014 05:42 pm at 5:42 pm |
  4. Klaus

    at least one has the balls to tell the truth

    March 26, 2014 05:43 pm at 5:43 pm |
  5. I against I

    He forgot to mention how we alienated our only allies in the ME: Israel. Poor job there too.

    March 26, 2014 05:43 pm at 5:43 pm |
  6. Jerry

    If you can't take a Joke, then don't be one!!

    March 26, 2014 05:44 pm at 5:44 pm |
  7. Dennis

    It's Fox News.What more would we expect from them?

    March 26, 2014 05:44 pm at 5:44 pm |
  8. fungust0ad

    Rumsfeld has serious delusions regarding his intelligence and importance on the world stage. He is arrogant, condescending and theatrical, using adroit but meaningless language. And he was considerably more damaging than a trained ape would have been as SOD.

    March 26, 2014 05:44 pm at 5:44 pm |
  9. john

    "He feels strongly about how poorly the administration has handled diplomacy and that's what was reflected in his comments,"

    Who is this guy to talk about diplomacy. The man who coined the phrase "shock and awe." Rumsfeld, please go away.

    March 26, 2014 05:45 pm at 5:45 pm |
  10. pkrbkr

    Who is HE to spout about our foreign relations policies?????? Between him and W...they started a war we had no business getting involved in and will be paying for forever! President Obama has NOT gotten us involved in any wars, thank goodness his cool head prevails and he looks out for the American people!

    March 26, 2014 05:46 pm at 5:46 pm |
  11. theotherbob56

    Rumsfeld talking about diplomatic failures can be found in the dictionary in the definition of "chutzpah".

    March 26, 2014 05:46 pm at 5:46 pm |
  12. Danny

    After 9/11 he had 2 tasks; find Bin Laden and eliminate the Taliban. He failed at both while successfully creating a quagmire in Iraq. A trained ape has more foreign policy expertise than Rummy.

    March 26, 2014 05:47 pm at 5:47 pm |
  13. ed

    This mother f***ker ought to be dragged down a road by his balls tell they fall off.

    March 26, 2014 05:47 pm at 5:47 pm |
  14. Super Mario

    I don't see the big deal? George W. Bush is the one who should be upset....Rumsfeld was obviously referring to him.

    March 26, 2014 05:47 pm at 5:47 pm |
  15. Ron

    Rumsfeld is accurate. My dog would've done a better job than this joke of a president. Our foreign policy is an embarrassment. But all you Obamazombies got exactly what you voted for – an incompetent Community Organizer!!

    March 26, 2014 05:49 pm at 5:49 pm |
  16. fungust0ad

    Rumsfeld has serious delusions regarding the value of his opinions. His reckless and blindly ambitious turn at SOD was a disaster. He actually has nothing of substance to say about anything, but says it with a great flare of sarcasm and theatrics.

    March 26, 2014 05:49 pm at 5:49 pm |
  17. ghostwriter

    Yep......actually going with Rummy on this one. Conservatives have a good point on this them run it into the ground.

    March 26, 2014 05:50 pm at 5:50 pm |
  18. TLORop

    He's right a trained ape could have done a better job that Rumsfeld did.

    March 26, 2014 05:50 pm at 5:50 pm |
  19. Blue

    President Obama is one of our strongest presidents. The apes are the republicans. Every democratic president has been the victim of the lies and bad-mouthing by the republicans. No one could have been worst than George W. Bush.

    March 26, 2014 05:50 pm at 5:50 pm |
  20. Dennis F

    When I was in the Navy in the late 70's, I respected Rumsfeld. When Bush made him SECDEF in 2001, I thought it was a good choice. When I saw US troops bypassing Ammo Depots in Iraq because we did not have enough forces in country to guard those depots...I knew we were in for it. I have learned since then that Rumsfeld was the person that vetoed the extra troops requested by our military planners to do the job properly during OIF.

    What did it mean? It meant that the Iraqis who were intent on fighting 'asymetrically' (guerrila war) had plenty of time to remove as much explosive ordnance from those Ammo Depots...and hide that ordnance. That hidden ordnance would become the source of explosives used by those Iraqi guerilla forces to make IED (Improvised Explosive Devices). Those IEDs were the cause for most of the deaths and maimings of US forces in the ensuing decade in Iraq.

    Rumsfeld has shown he has no special wisdom that would render him immune from his own statement that 'even a trained ape could do a better job'.

    March 26, 2014 05:50 pm at 5:50 pm |
  21. Grymmdog

    Sounds like the pot calling the kettle black (pun intended). Rumsfeld couldn't have done a worse job during his Bush tenure if he tried. He's got some cojones trash talking Obama

    March 26, 2014 05:51 pm at 5:51 pm |
  22. Farrok

    The comment this former DOD leader made is over the line. Stop talking like this.

    March 26, 2014 05:51 pm at 5:51 pm |
  23. jon wilson

    Actually he was a lieutenant in the Navy from 1954 to 1957 Can't say I'm a big Rumsfeld fan and don't care much for his comment, but as of lately Obama has been failing miserably in foreign Policy. He's starting to look tired, but then again I'd look tired too if I had that much on my plate.

    March 26, 2014 05:51 pm at 5:51 pm |
  24. Tim

    We already know a trained ape is more competent then Obama,Hillary,Biden,Reid and Pelosi..

    March 26, 2014 05:52 pm at 5:52 pm |
  25. Ron

    All you Libs saying that Rumsfeld only knew WAR!! It's comical.. We are STILL losing lives and wasting money in Afghanistan. Where's the outrage?? Where is the anger that we've remained there and thousands are dying??

    March 26, 2014 05:52 pm at 5:52 pm |
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