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. Seth

    Hope he and the rest of the Neocons die soon. Cheney can go first.

    March 26, 2014 08:08 pm at 8:08 pm |
  2. Jason Ransone

    Rumsfeld is being really quite unfair to a trained ape by even comparing one to the idiots in this administration....

    March 26, 2014 08:11 pm at 8:11 pm |
  3. Skeptimist

    Sounds like old Rummy is still trying to sort out his "known unknowns" and his "unknown unknowns" and losing count of his marbles in the process.

    March 26, 2014 08:11 pm at 8:11 pm |
  4. Glenn

    Rummy, considering how you botched Iraq (and Afghanistan) you really shouldn't be 'casting stones'. People must have short memories to forget how Rummy told us that the Iraq war was going to be short and not cost a huge amount. Additionally, our soldiers were sent in with limited equipment. I remember some having to provide their own body armor.

    March 26, 2014 08:12 pm at 8:12 pm |
  5. lloyd roberts

    You left such a mess, you should keep your lying mouth shut. We weren't attacked by Iraq, 15 of the 19 hijackers came from one country; Saudi Arabia. Not one from Iraq. And you and your cronies didn't even negotiate an oil dividend back from Iraq for the trillion dollars we spent there liberating Iraq. A fifteen year oil dividend would have been nice from a country that has the second highest reserves. So I don't, and America doesn't need to hear from you

    March 26, 2014 08:17 pm at 8:17 pm |
  6. Carl Buck

    Maybe we should have been using a trained ape for Sec of Defense in 2001 instead of Donald when 3000+ Americans died on US soil by acts of terrorism. Obviously Bush and his cabinet were lacking.

    March 26, 2014 08:19 pm at 8:19 pm |
  7. Greenspam

    Rumsfeld talking about diplomacy is like Limbaugh talking about etiquette.

    March 26, 2014 08:21 pm at 8:21 pm |
  8. Uncle Sam

    Obama like all the attention, he just doesn't want to be a leader.

    March 26, 2014 08:21 pm at 8:21 pm |
  9. Raadgast

    I don't think the context was intended at the President. I do agree that the forces agreement could have been strong armed better to the USA. That being said, this guy is the last person being critical of any foreign policy. He botched more than his share to last us for a long time, this is actually his mess, sorry he doesn't like the way it was being cleaned up.

    March 26, 2014 08:21 pm at 8:21 pm |
  10. Jman

    Thought he was in prison. Should be. His lies cost us thousands of American lives, wrecked our economy and left us saddled with a mountain of war debt we will never get out from under. Oh yeah, Iraq would give us unlimited oil in gratitude for wrecking their country, greet us with roses – remember? Hideous excuse for a human being, and a terrible American, one of the worst in recent memory, right behind W.

    March 26, 2014 08:21 pm at 8:21 pm |
  11. rs


    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.
    Gutter name-calling is neither "liberal" or civilized, and so for those reasons should not be used in public speech. That the GOP chooses to snipe from the gutter, no surprise there.

    March 26, 2014 08:23 pm at 8:23 pm |
  12. Roberto

    Free speech still alive and well in this country.

    March 26, 2014 08:24 pm at 8:24 pm |
  13. Leftcoastrocky

    Rumsfeld's comments that a "trained ape" could have done a better job securing diplomatic relations with Afghanistan than the Obama administration are totally unprofessional, disrespectful and racists.

    March 26, 2014 08:25 pm at 8:25 pm |
  14. Leftcoastrocky

    Rumsfeld said that he doubted that the Iraq war would last six months.

    March 26, 2014 08:28 pm at 8:28 pm |
  15. DJohnsen

    I think he is referring to our last president with the trained ape line. If GWB could do it, a trained ape certainly could.

    March 26, 2014 08:28 pm at 8:28 pm |
  16. Leftcoastrocky

    Rumsfeld said -

    We know where they [Iraq's WMD] are. They're in the area around Tikrit and Baghdad and east, west, south, and north somewhat...

    March 26, 2014 08:29 pm at 8:29 pm |
  17. SactoNana

    So let's get this straight. Rumsfeld was part of the Bush administration team that trumped up the intelligence that there were WMDs in Iraq. So, we invaded Iraq, and got ourselves into a quagmire that for more than a decade kept us there, at the expense of blood and treasure. He has no credibility as far as I'm concerned!

    March 26, 2014 08:29 pm at 8:29 pm |
  18. Johnjon

    gotta love the GOP................. they still think comments like this a perfectly alright.

    March 26, 2014 08:30 pm at 8:30 pm |
  19. Deej

    I'm sick and tired of seeing these Bush administration officials, who botched things left and right for eight years, screaming about how the current administration is a disaster. I am exhausted with this whole "I'm going to pretend I'm righteous and I expect YOU to pretend the same" attitude from these guys. Cheney, in particular, but Rumsfeld, too.

    Look, right-wingers, we'll agree to put socks in the mouths of Begala, Carville and Brazile if you'll keep the Bushies and that horrible Palin disaster off the air. You can let Bachmann continue, though. Some train wrecks are just plain fun to watch.

    March 26, 2014 08:30 pm at 8:30 pm |
  20. emintey

    Yeh, this guy has credibility.

    Don Rumsfeld on Irag:

    :And it is not knowable if force will be used, but if it is to be used, it is not knowable how long that conflict would last. It could last, you know, six days, six weeks. I doubt six months."

    TownHall Meeting At Aviano Air Base in Italy, February 7, 2003

    March 26, 2014 08:36 pm at 8:36 pm |
  21. Patty

    Coming from Rumsfeld? One of the architects of the greatest foreign policy disaster in the history of the US? Really Donald? An important member of the most morally bankrupt and incompetent administration in US history? And we should care less about your opinion?

    March 26, 2014 08:38 pm at 8:38 pm |
  22. George

    Maybe Rumsfeld could go to Iraq and find the WMD that he alleged were there prior to our invasion of that country and the subsequent loss of life of thousands of Americans.

    March 26, 2014 08:47 pm at 8:47 pm |
  23. Gene C.

    Criticisms of Obama over the Crimea remind me of the right's 1940's outcry over the US "losing China" to the commies. Exactly what were we supposed to do short of world war?

    March 26, 2014 08:49 pm at 8:49 pm |
  24. Rebecca O.

    Well, that's real Klassy.

    But a Rumsfeld aide notes that he has used the phrase before and wasn't referring specifically to President Barack Obama.

    March 26, 2014 08:50 pm at 8:50 pm |
  25. Pi

    I love how nobody is allowed to criticize this president (and the moment they do, it's automatically racism or disrespect or whatever fits the situation). I recall eight years of nothing but criticism, second-guessing, mockery, disrespect, etc. throw at the previous president, 24/7/365. Shut up already.

    March 26, 2014 08:53 pm at 8:53 pm |
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