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. observer

    Rumsfeld and the Republicans started a $2,000,000,000,000 war for false reasons. We would have been better off with trained monkeys.

    March 26, 2014 10:29 pm at 10:29 pm |
  2. erl

    Rumfeld, Cheney and Bush are all lying cowardly traitors to their country. They should all be turned over to Malaysia where they will be sentenced as the war criminals they are!

    March 26, 2014 10:33 pm at 10:33 pm |
  3. Mike

    Rumsfeld is a known known, one we'd rather not know.

    March 26, 2014 10:34 pm at 10:34 pm |
  4. Jib76

    I believe that Secretary Rumsfeld was tried in abstencia for war crimes and convicted .

    March 26, 2014 10:34 pm at 10:34 pm |
  5. DaveW

    This is rich coming from the worse-than-useless head of a corrupt pharmaceutical company who became defense secretary and got us into as many conflicts in as many places around the globe as he possibly could while he sat behind his desk in the Pentagon. Does being an important part of the worst administration in world history give him some sort of street cred that we would ever pay any attention to this gigantic, feckless egomaniac?

    March 26, 2014 10:35 pm at 10:35 pm |
  6. polycarp pio

    It is easy to judge the President when your not in his chair with all the responsibilities that go with it. I am not a fan of this Presidents but I pray for him every day, my philosophy is " If you have time to talk about someone, you have time to pray for them". PP

    March 26, 2014 10:39 pm at 10:39 pm |
  7. Susan Frishkorn

    This, from a man who almost single handedly caused the death of thousands of our soldiers, then called them, "fungible", botched a war against a small country who could not even put a plane in the air, and spun the greatest country in the World into an economic abyss? The only thing we ever need to hear from Mr. Rumsfeld is, "I apologize, and am retiring from politics.".

    March 26, 2014 10:40 pm at 10:40 pm |
  8. Steve

    Just like we know a trained ape is more competent than Congress, Ted Cruz, John Bonher, Sarah Palin, and Michelle Bachman..... Not to mention Faux Nuez Network!

    March 26, 2014 10:43 pm at 10:43 pm |
  9. smc

    Rumsfeld is an expert on "epic fails".

    March 26, 2014 10:44 pm at 10:44 pm |
  10. t h

    'Donald Rumsfeld net worth: Donald Rumsfeld is an American politician and businessman who has a net worth of $15 million. Donald Rumsfeld obtained his net worth by being the 13th Secretary of Defense from 1975-1977 and White House Chief of Staff during the Ford Administration.'

    March 26, 2014 10:49 pm at 10:49 pm |
  11. RickFromTexas

    Who does he think he's kidding with this complete nonsense?

    If Rumsfeld ever stepped foot in Afghanistan, he'd be killed on the spot and there would be celebrations throughout the country.

    The only people dumb enough to believe Rumsfeld are republicans. There's a good reason they're known as The Stupid Party.

    Remember in November, folks.

    March 26, 2014 10:54 pm at 10:54 pm |
  12. Thomas K

    "Five days or five months, but it certainly isn't going to last longer."
    Donald Rumsfeld, 11/15/2002, on the Iraq war. The war/occupation lasted 8 years and nine months.

    ...and he has the chutzpah to criticize Obama?

    March 26, 2014 11:05 pm at 11:05 pm |
  13. Rob

    Fox News where news isn't reported it's manufactured. Don't forget Rumsfeld was instrumental in convincing the US to invade Iraq. Warfare diplomacy that's the way to bring peace to the world.

    March 26, 2014 11:14 pm at 11:14 pm |
  14. Alan

    Remember the trained ape who held up photos of tents in a desert, and said that they were photos of weapons of mass destruction?

    March 26, 2014 11:15 pm at 11:15 pm |
  15. rs1201

    who cares what Rumsfeld said. We should be more worried about the continued financial bleeding that this administration is engaged in. How many young Americans have gone or are going to China for Spring break? the entire obama extended family is in China on the American Taxpayers' dime....when Americans are busy sleeping in their cars and seeing their children going to sleep hungry...Sasha and Malia obama are in China with their mother and their grandmother having a wonderful time on the taxpayers' dime.
    How more irresponsible and despicable could the obamas be????

    March 26, 2014 11:15 pm at 11:15 pm |
  16. Dallas

    The nerve of this hypocrite saying anything about President Obama after his shameful tenure as Secretary of Defense. He's lucky he's not in prison. Go away Rummy – your 15 minutes is over!

    March 26, 2014 11:17 pm at 11:17 pm |
  17. Brian

    Alzheimer's has clearly set in with good old Rummy.

    March 26, 2014 11:21 pm at 11:21 pm |
  18. Will P

    If I remember correctly, it was Rumsfeld who ordered the dissolution of the Iraqi military, thereby turning them loose back into the private Iraqi citizenry with weapons, warfare training, and no jobs. That was brilliant! How many coalition lives were lost because of that faux pas? How may years did that decision add to this senseless conflict? How much US treasure was spent in the extended war effort? Mr. Rumsfeld should recede into private life, keep his criticisms to himself, and keep his nose out of politics.

    March 26, 2014 11:26 pm at 11:26 pm |
  19. RandyKC

    I don't see it as a racist statement since I don't equate any single human race with monkeys.
    I do think that Rumsfeld's critique of how the Obama administration handled Karzai is beyond ridiculous. Rumsfeld set the tone for that relationship during the Bush administration. Being critical of the Obama administration for not being willing to bribe Karzai like the Bush administration did is something a trained monkey would do. To keep repeating the same mistake and being critical of others that try to do things different is also something a trained monkey would do.

    March 26, 2014 11:29 pm at 11:29 pm |
  20. gkam

    "Time for your visit to the Hague, Mister Rumsfeld!"

    March 26, 2014 11:32 pm at 11:32 pm |
  21. Pat

    Considering how Rumsfeld handles both the war in Afghanistan and Iraq, he should be too embarrassed to say anything. He totally bungled both wars and left no possibility of a good outcome of either one.

    March 26, 2014 11:34 pm at 11:34 pm |
  22. Zwei Stein

    His record as the 21st Secretary of DEFENSE is so stellar!

    March 26, 2014 11:45 pm at 11:45 pm |
  23. Liz

    He should be the last to talk and cast stones after his colossal and costly fiasco in Iraq. Thousands of young Americans dead, others maimed for life, not to mention the countless of ruined and devastated lives of innocent Iraqi civilians. Yet oblivious, he continues to talk grandiose, self-serving nonsense that simply no one cares to hear.

    March 27, 2014 12:01 am at 12:01 am |
  24. Liz

    He should be the last to talk and cast stones after such colossal and costly fiasco in Iraq. Thousand of young Americans dead, other maimed for life, not to mention the countless devastated and ruined Iraqi civilians. Spare us oblivious, self-serving nonsense.

    March 27, 2014 12:12 am at 12:12 am |
  25. EWhatley

    This is really heart breaking that we are showing so much dis-respect for our commander and chief of this great nation. No wonder the rest of the world do not respect us, because we do not respect ourselves.

    March 27, 2014 12:23 am at 12:23 am |
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