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. larry

    More men have died in war under Obama than Bush. Where are the caskets on TV every night ?

    March 27, 2014 05:43 am at 5:43 am |
  2. Steve Townsend

    Ironic, un-trained Apes tend to try an avoid fights, as Secretary of Defense, Rumsfeld tended to get into them.

    March 27, 2014 05:51 am at 5:51 am |
  3. Kenny Ray

    Rumsfeld's statement, "There's no debate in the world as to whether they have those weapons. We all know that. A trained ape knows that" is actually spot on. At the time of the Iraq invasion everyone of the "trained apes" comprising our national leadership "knew that."

    March 27, 2014 05:53 am at 5:53 am |
  4. bayrat

    Even a trained ape would have known there were no WMD's in Iraq!

    March 27, 2014 05:59 am at 5:59 am |
  5. Anonymous

    "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." Oh boy, I can't believe the balls on this guy. Really, he thinks HE has the right to criticize anything anyone ever does? He could be judged in history as a war criminal. Why did the US get into Afghanistan in the 1st place. All the experts were saying we just needed special forces to take out bin Laden and they were correct, but the GOP doesn't like to listen to experts not when it gets in the way of a corporation like Halliburton making 100s of billions and especially when their children aren't the ones in the military. Shame on him, his remarks are ridiculous, and if I were him, I'd go someone and spend my life trying to make amends.

    March 27, 2014 06:01 am at 6:01 am |
  6. joe

    again an example of one not helping the other...

    March 27, 2014 06:15 am at 6:15 am |
  7. TJP

    How can anyone seriously listen to this decrepit old fool! If he was in charge right now, we would be in World War III with Russia. He, Bush and the boys(Cheney) took us into two wars(with no good end possible) and almost put the country into a depression. Instead of soap box, all of them should be in a jail cell.

    March 27, 2014 06:20 am at 6:20 am |
  8. joe smith

    if the shoe fits..AG holder, " no special prosecutor needed"; Lerner, I'll take the 5th; man tricks govn't , as he double dips; health care act is a complete, dogs/cats have more sense that this administration..

    March 27, 2014 06:21 am at 6:21 am |
  9. Mike

    A lot of ignorant comments here. As an Air Force veteran I can tell you that peace and security comes from strength of our military for those who haven't served or do not understand what the previous generation has done to make America safe. It makes me sick to hear these young punks criticize our military when their still wet behind the ears. Rumsfeld is 100% correct when it comes to Obama. Obama has totally ruined our relationships with our allies and standing in the world!

    March 27, 2014 06:23 am at 6:23 am |
  10. NYOMD

    A trained ape can do a better job? It sounds like Rummy is looking for a job with the administration.

    March 27, 2014 06:36 am at 6:36 am |
  11. Harry

    "There's no debate in the world as to whether they have those weapons. We all know that. A trained ape knows that."
    Okay, Rummy. What happened to the WMDs?

    March 27, 2014 06:45 am at 6:45 am |
  12. Frank

    Says the guy who "knows" that WMDs are north, south, east and west of Tikrit.

    March 27, 2014 06:52 am at 6:52 am |
  13. blutefisk

    Well ole Rummy should know. He worked for a trained ape for 6 years.

    March 27, 2014 06:53 am at 6:53 am |
  14. Craig

    If there's anyone that knows about mismanagement, it's Rumsfeld.

    March 27, 2014 06:56 am at 6:56 am |
  15. kyler88

    And Rumsfield did such a good job in places such as, well I don't know, Iraq.

    March 27, 2014 07:00 am at 7:00 am |
  16. Serge

    Of course Rumsfeld would back ANY strategy to keep a large U.S. force in Afghanistan. And for all of the money that goes directly from the U.S. Treasury to the Taliban, well, according to Rumsfeld, that's just part of doing business.

    March 27, 2014 07:06 am at 7:06 am |
  17. Arcturus

    Think of what the Republicans gave us: not only Rumsfeld but Cheney and myriad lesser oafs unfit to do their jobs. Condoleeeza, who history is showing lied outright and played a larger part in the Iraq fiasco; John Ashcroft who anointed himself with cooking oil and covered naked statues of Justice with cloth; outright criminal Alberto Gonzalez; Gale Norton, Sec of Interior who was woefully unqualified and took money from Jack Abramoff, or to mention destroying rivers in California... And the lesser lights: Bill Frist who could diagnose comatose patients over the phone, cockroach killer Tom Delay who ought to be in jail yet.., the list goes on. You'd think this party would be eradicated by now with all the buffoons they have given us.

    March 27, 2014 07:08 am at 7:08 am |
  18. jzaks

    Much ado about nothing.

    March 27, 2014 07:09 am at 7:09 am |
  19. Cheryl

    Donald Rumsfeld should be tried for war crimes and thrown in prison for the rest of his life.

    March 27, 2014 07:11 am at 7:11 am |
  20. Dan

    I have to laugh that all the liberals are more upset by this very accurate assessment than by the utter failure Obama and his team has been

    March 27, 2014 07:12 am at 7:12 am |
  21. Robert Donovan

    Rumsfeld commenting on SOMEONE ELSE'S diplomatic and political astuteness?


    March 27, 2014 07:15 am at 7:15 am |
  22. Angel

    How sad it seems rummy is suffering from Alzheimer's. He's totally forgot about his fake war looking for weapons of mass destruction all over the middle east, which not surprisingly they never found. One question rummy who found and killed bin laden? If Afghanistan s leader is mad at anyone I bet bush and his administration are on the top of the list. A lot of the comments on here sound like all of the other times I've heard someone say....oh there's no racism n America....Seriously f you believe that then you're probably the racist which is why you can't see it. Its hard to take a look at the man in the mj

    March 27, 2014 07:24 am at 7:24 am |
  23. Truth

    Who made the leap that trained ape related to Obama's race? That is who you should address this issue with – if anyone.

    Ridiculous PC at its best.

    March 27, 2014 07:26 am at 7:26 am |
  24. Jim Hadel

    Takes one to know one!!!

    March 27, 2014 07:26 am at 7:26 am |
  25. MrComments

    Oh please, Rumsfeld is without a doubt the worst Sec of Defense ever, and lied us into the Iraq War. The Army, Navy, Marine and Air Force Times all called for his resignation, and when Bush finally had enough of Rummy and Cheney, his daddy told him to toss Rummy and bring in Gates (smart move).

    That said, Rumsfeld has used this phrase many times in the past referring to various people, mostly white. This is in no way racist, and in fact running an article like this is race baiting.

    March 27, 2014 07:41 am at 7:41 am |
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