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. plain and simple

    Why doesn't Rumsfeld go train some apes to fight his next war!!!! Leave our young men and women out of his money for oil political bs!!!

    March 26, 2014 05:52 pm at 5:52 pm |
  2. Bob

    Anyone who has a mirror and worked in the Bush administration is no doubt an expert on apes.

    March 26, 2014 05:53 pm at 5:53 pm |
  3. Peter

    I totally agree with Mr. Rumsfeld's comments. He is spot on.

    March 26, 2014 05:54 pm at 5:54 pm |
  4. Anonymous

    Who let this joker back in the limelight?

    March 26, 2014 05:55 pm at 5:55 pm |
  5. Anton Dubinski

    Right, because he did such a 'marvelous' job managing IRAQ war.

    March 26, 2014 05:55 pm at 5:55 pm |
  6. Regina Froyd

    In this article, Rumsfeld's Aid (who is a "Trained Ape" by the way) seems to believes by calling out names of the peoples Rumsfeld has insulted will in some way, redeem him, and hopefully have him sound like "A Good Old Boy" who is just having fun!

    March 26, 2014 05:56 pm at 5:56 pm |
  7. Wake Up People! Many Rivers to cross.....

    Robyn you're as wrong as 3 left shoes. Age is no excuse. People his age are the biggest racist bigots there are. Those are the very same types of people that attacked blacks for simply wanting to sit at a lunch counter that wasn't designated "Colored". He said exactly what he meant. He has a lot of damn nerve after the failure of the Bush administration.

    March 26, 2014 05:56 pm at 5:56 pm |
  8. Dan Lynch

    Lets make a mountain out of a mole hill.
    Everything that's negatively said concerning our president is not necessarily racist.
    Stop running to always use the race card.
    It get a little old after awhile.

    March 26, 2014 05:56 pm at 5:56 pm |
  9. mbl

    Rumsfeld has always been refreshing in his openness even when it got him in trouble. No racism here, just a non-racist figure of speech which people have written too much into. That said, I do find his comments about our "failure" to connect with Karzai bordering on lunacy. Karzai has been a self-dealing, thieving crook who we never should have gotten into bed with in the first place. The fact that he may have been the best available Afghan to side with only shows why we never should have wasted our time "nation building" there in the first place. Let him ignore our diplomats, our military support, our foreign aid, and see how long he lasts in power. Let him turn to Putin and let him and his country be Russia's problem again.

    March 26, 2014 05:57 pm at 5:57 pm |
  10. Brhino

    I'm sooooooo sick of the never ending parade of race mongering dopes who hear " dog whistles " in their sleep. Jesus H. Christ people, grow up!!!! There's ACTUAL racism out there in the world for you all to combat if you want to get up off your lazy butts and stop drooling all over your computer keyboards for 5 minutes!

    March 26, 2014 05:57 pm at 5:57 pm |
  11. tom

    Why would I even reply to this, only apes (democrats) would let war criminals off the hook. Thousands Iraqi dead, thousands of soldiers dead/injured.......US will take decades to clean up the mess these apes (republicans) made.
    But lets move on....only the the DOW matters. May the greed be with you. Money and Oil. People? No, just disposable baggage.

    March 26, 2014 05:58 pm at 5:58 pm |
  12. Aris

    Ok, now we cant use the term 'trained ape' because it offends some people, who for what ever reason, think of themselves as being apes? If you are in that category, you have a personal problem you need to deal with.
    SO much for liberal speech.

    March 26, 2014 05:58 pm at 5:58 pm |
  13. ChrisM

    Rumsfeld, the only "trained ape" Americans see is You and your republicans with your Warmongering mentality

    March 26, 2014 05:58 pm at 5:58 pm |
  14. morris diehl

    Those of you that say people of Donnie's age use words like trained ape are really mistaken, we don't use those words unless its being derogatory towards a black person. Since Donnie is what we call a sunshine patriot he should keep his comments to himself and not go on the fake news network. While a lot of us from my generation served with honor in Viet Nam Donnie like that other clown from the Bush administration had better things to do. So do us all a favor and keep your mouth shut and consider your self lucky you weren't made to pay for your murder of untold citizens and military thru your incompetent behavior

    March 26, 2014 06:00 pm at 6:00 pm |
  15. Aaron

    Only a trained ape would agree with the comments of a corporate criminal draft dodger like rummy. Only a traitor to this country would make a statement like that about the potus.

    March 26, 2014 06:02 pm at 6:02 pm |
  16. karl from az

    Nope, the real 'trained' apes are insulted (to be compared with this administration)!

    March 26, 2014 06:04 pm at 6:04 pm |
  17. Ron

    Gail me
    This being said from a member of one of the worst administrations we have ever had. Never mind tanking the economy, they also committed the worst foreign policy blunders I the entire history of this country. This caused us to lose all moral integrity. Every administration for the next few generations will have to carry the burden of mistrust. What a terrible man this is.

    This is the Obama Administration you are referencing!!!!!

    March 26, 2014 06:04 pm at 6:04 pm |
  18. Larry L


    I think Rumsfeld is a jerk, but anybody who tries to turn his "trained ape" comment into a racist remark is nothing but a certifiable race baiter.
    Really? So the posters we all commonly saw at Tea Party rallies of the ape-like version of President "Obammy" wasn't related to racism? The Confederate Flags and efforts to repeal the Civil Right Act are not race motivated?

    The right-wing complaint about "race-baiting" became the current sound-bite as racists became bolder. Too bad. Just look at these comments and see how often race is related to violence, welfare, education, immigration, or even family values. Take a look at the Tea Party or even the RNC gatherings. The population of whites must run around 98%. Think race has no influence on their politics? Delusional...

    March 26, 2014 06:05 pm at 6:05 pm |
  19. Soho-southwest

    A true leader's vocabulary and IQ should be able to filter "words" you don't be the judge when someone uses words that are controversial to begin with. Aren't there enough words in English language to express your views?

    March 26, 2014 06:05 pm at 6:05 pm |
  20. Aaron

    Let's ignore what Rumsfeld and his administration did to our once great country. Let's pretend he was competent at his position. Let's just act like his 8 years of failure never happened and treat him like he knows what he is talking about. Because we are that gullible and corrupted by hate for our current president. Let's keep praising Putin and bashing our twice elected president. Treason is the right wing mantra. The gallows is what he deserves

    March 26, 2014 06:08 pm at 6:08 pm |
  21. Ron

    How many more lives do we need to lose in Afghanistan? Why isn't the spineless Obama pulling out the troops? Why have we remained there? But all the mental midget Libs have the nerve to talk about Bush?? You people do realize that your healthcare will triple!!

    March 26, 2014 06:10 pm at 6:10 pm |
  22. jge

    I little dose of Rumsfeld is enough. Leave us alone.

    March 26, 2014 06:12 pm at 6:12 pm |
  23. tupperhouse

    His idea of diplomacy if you don't co-operate we will bomb you back to the stone age.

    March 26, 2014 06:15 pm at 6:15 pm |
  24. john moran

    Personally I couldn't care less if he is referring to failed President Obama or the whole administration. I don't care for Rumsfeld either. We had to deal with him during my time in the Vietnam War and he is a war mongering low life. Having said that I would have to agree that the Obama administration has done a terrible job not only in foreign policy/relations but also in just about everything they've done at home. Thanks to the botched roll out of Obama and it's effects many retired workers are losing company sponsored healthcare or being priced out of the healthcare market. Working families will now be paying more for their healthcare and getting lower quality plans in the bargain. I look forward to the end of Obama's term but have little faith that we will see much improvement regardless of who replaces him. Both parties have done a rotten job of running the country during the past several terms. We have a government bought and paid for by special interests where profits and greed outweight the national good and welfare of our citizens. The Founding Fathers would turn over in their graves if they could see what our country has become, a place where professional politicians sell out on a daily basis for their own benefit, supporting double standards when it comes to other countries.

    March 26, 2014 06:15 pm at 6:15 pm |
  25. Tony Manero

    Trained apes could deal with Karzai and find WMD's.

    March 26, 2014 06:16 pm at 6:16 pm |
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