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. The law

    Good for you Rumsfeld... Maybe the libs will get a little backbone. Still trying to say, Bush fault after 5 plus years..

    March 26, 2014 08:57 pm at 8:57 pm |
  2. Sheikh Kamal

    This type of comments about the President of USA by a previous leader only helps our enemies.
    When can we have decent parliamentarian, statesmanlike conversations about current affairs?

    March 26, 2014 09:00 pm at 9:00 pm |
  3. Logic

    Rumsfeld should apologize to the apes. Particularly the trained ones. Our leaders are completely inept and amateurish in geo-political leadership. Total fail.

    March 26, 2014 09:10 pm at 9:10 pm |
  4. AMJ

    Why does anyone listen to Rumsfeld? He is one of the idiots who sent us into Iraq for WMDs that didn't exist. An ape could have figured that out! Go talk to Sarah Palin and leave the civilized world alone Mr. Rumsfeld.

    March 26, 2014 09:10 pm at 9:10 pm |
  5. In Your Face

    Tough talk coming from the world's premier coward of top rank.

    March 26, 2014 09:17 pm at 9:17 pm |
  6. True American

    I think this was a seriuos insult to the APE's of the world!

    March 26, 2014 09:19 pm at 9:19 pm |
  7. Anonymous

    WOW! You can not make this stuff up. Donald Rumsfeld is a joke to criticize Mr. Obama about Afghanistan. Where are the WMD's?

    March 26, 2014 09:20 pm at 9:20 pm |
  8. Kim Carnes

    So, now that Karzai has shown he's pro-Russion and has slapped us in the face, how do you explain that, Mr. Rumsfeld. You were the "trained ape" that put him into power. Now, why does he slap the USA after our soldiers died to invade a country they were "told to invade."

    March 26, 2014 09:20 pm at 9:20 pm |
  9. jakibros

    Oh yes Mr Rumsfeld because you and George W did such a bang up job the first time around in the Middle East. People in glass houses shouldn't throw stones...

    March 26, 2014 09:22 pm at 9:22 pm |
  10. Thom Burke

    Given Rumsfeld's Abu Ghraib credit he doesn't have a right to open his mouth to the public ever again.

    March 26, 2014 09:22 pm at 9:22 pm |
  11. nuclear mike

    "All that glitters is gold to da'monkey"...Rummy was dead-on!

    March 26, 2014 09:22 pm at 9:22 pm |
  12. Anonymous

    Sure, a GOP trained ape would just give Karzai his payoff and let his corrupt government continue to steal everything they can get their bureaucratic hands on. Who cares if Karzai is happy with us or not? Let the Taliban tear him apart when we leave. He deserves it.

    March 26, 2014 09:29 pm at 9:29 pm |
  13. RDiddy

    Rumsfeld should have hired some trained apes to help him catch bin Laden and manage the 2 wars he so incompetently fought. This joker will go down in history as the most incompetent Sec of Defense in history, along with the pres and vp.

    March 26, 2014 09:38 pm at 9:38 pm |
  14. ThatSound

    Rumsfeld demonstrated his intellect (and/or intellectual honesty) on the "trained ape" spectrum when he claimed even a trained ape would know there were WMD in Iraq, when, in fact, none existed.

    March 26, 2014 09:41 pm at 9:41 pm |
  15. Jim

    A trained ape would have better planed and executed the Iraq war. Mr. Rumsfeld is directly responsible for thousands of American deaths and many thousands of Iraqi deaths.

    March 26, 2014 09:41 pm at 9:41 pm |
  16. gregg

    Hey Tim, do not forget "W", Boehner, Cruz and the entire GOP in your indictment....

    March 26, 2014 09:41 pm at 9:41 pm |
  17. Anonymous

    This is coming from a guy who said the war would be over in six months and cost less than $60 billion. He has no credibility at all.

    March 26, 2014 09:51 pm at 9:51 pm |
  18. PairaNormal

    Mr. Rumsfeld 'misunderestimates' the value of his opinion.

    March 26, 2014 09:51 pm at 9:51 pm |
  19. pwink

    Ok, and this coming from a guy named Ron Dumsfeld. Uh, but I'm not referring to Don Rumsfeld.

    March 26, 2014 09:53 pm at 9:53 pm |
  20. JustBelieveIT

    GOPers cry about the health care bill but they don't realize Bush jr may be the reason for it. During the Bush administration, Bush jr raised the premiums to record highs.

    March 26, 2014 09:57 pm at 9:57 pm |
  21. Anonymous

    Rumsfeld, Bush, and Cheney are murderers. They bankrupted this country by getting us into two wars and giving massive tax cuts to the rich. They enriched the oil and defense industries, the main beneficiaries of the Iraq war, but at the cost of how many thousands of our young men and women in uniform? It was too high a price to pay.
    And now they criticize the Obama administration? What would you like? Another war? We don't have the stomach for it right now, because we are still recovering or trying to, from the last two wars. Thank God we have a level headed President that is smart enough not to jump at the first provocation.

    March 26, 2014 10:03 pm at 10:03 pm |
  22. apstar

    Rumsfield is clearly speaking from experience - a simian one. He's the number one person on my list of the most dreaded people with whom to be stuck in an elevator.

    March 26, 2014 10:05 pm at 10:05 pm |
  23. t h

    what defense secretary got us into afghanistan in the first place?
    the same gang of armchair thugs who got us into iraqe
    who's calling the kettle black

    March 26, 2014 10:12 pm at 10:12 pm |
  24. reasonablebe

    and rumsfeld has such a good grasp of reality....

    March 26, 2014 10:15 pm at 10:15 pm |
  25. Den

    Rumsfield and the rest of the Republicans think the only answer to any diplomatic issue is several hundred thousand American soldiers and lots of shock and awe. Maybe if we had another world war then every Republican would be happy.

    March 26, 2014 10:16 pm at 10:16 pm |
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