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. Ancient Texan

    Much ado about nothing. There's always some 'PC police' searching every comment, looking for something to point at and scream about racism, or disrespect, or some other imagined "sin".

    March 26, 2014 12:36 pm at 12:36 pm |
  2. bt

    Whether you are a Democrat, Republican, or Libertarian you have to admit that Rumsfeld has HUGE eggs talking about diplomacy. This guy should be locked up.

    March 26, 2014 12:37 pm at 12:37 pm |
  3. Tampa Tim

    I always enjoyed Donnie's take off on "who's on first." Remember there are known knows, known unknowns, unknown knowns, and of course unknowns we don't know about? Pretty much sums up the Bush years.

    March 26, 2014 12:37 pm at 12:37 pm |
  4. Javier

    It's the way it works. The trained apes that do nothing but defend their homeboy B-rock, would rather turn the focus on someone using questionable language rather than the actual subject matter.

    March 26, 2014 12:39 pm at 12:39 pm |
  5. SeasonsWillPassYouBy

    Spoken to by the worst sec. of defense in our nations history. Some say he should have been tried for war crimes, no a psychiatric unit would be more appropriate.

    March 26, 2014 12:39 pm at 12:39 pm |
  6. Molly

    I guess this trained ape who issued the comment has a very short memory!!! Not only did he cost our country an awful lot of money for the wars he got us into, but also many precious lives!

    March 26, 2014 12:39 pm at 12:39 pm |
  7. tffl

    Yes, because Rumsfeld's actions (diplomatic and otherwise) were _so_ successful... Why doesn't this clown just retire to a condo in Arizona and stop yammering about things he is clearly not competent to comment on.

    March 26, 2014 12:41 pm at 12:41 pm |
  8. Ancient Texan

    Gail me- Do you really think that APOLOGY and APPEASEMENT is better foreign policy than the policy of the previous administration that you speak derogatorily about?

    March 26, 2014 12:41 pm at 12:41 pm |
  9. JonWNC

    On March 30, 2003, 11 days into the Iraq War, Rumsfeld said in an ABC News interview, when asked about WMDs: "We know where they are. They're in the area around Tikrit and Baghdad and east, west, south and north somewhat."

    Is that what 'competence' looks like?

    March 26, 2014 12:41 pm at 12:41 pm |
  10. Rich

    Any comment by a Bush administration official about war holds no credibility. They spent trillions on wars with no clear strategy and unobtainable goals using lies and bullying to support them. If there were justice in this world, Rummy and Cheney would be sitting in a jail cell in the Hague. Putin is a sissy compared to them.

    March 26, 2014 12:42 pm at 12:42 pm |
  11. mike electrician

    Well a trained or even an untrained ape would not have invaded a country and created havoc and cost this country nearly a trillion dollars with over 5,000 dead and tens of thousands wounded. Apes are smarter than that.

    March 26, 2014 12:42 pm at 12:42 pm |
  12. Sam

    It is absolutely necessary to let individuals know and not to be stupid and condescending in their public utterances. I'd like to point out that 'the use of the phrase does not make it right'. The fact that its former, ineffective, loosed, public figure used it and nobody called him to it meant it should be accepted in our public discourse. Rumsfield must understand that no one is an animal irrespective of the way people approach issues. There's bound to be misunderstanding in modus operandi, does that mean he'll go about stupid innuendo? What legacy is he leaving for young vibrant aspiring individuals gunning for public office? To continue with his stupid language? It has no place in international politics and certainly among reasoning human beings. Grow up're still a baby!

    March 26, 2014 12:45 pm at 12:45 pm |
  13. Bill

    Karzai supporting the Russians. That's Afghanistan in a nutshell. They have no cultural equivalent for our notions of principle and loyalty. Everything is about what you've done for me lately, or what you might do for me now. That we were slaughtering each other's women and children yesterday means nothing.

    We need to think seriously about that before occupying and trying to "nation build" in a place like Afghanistan. They don't share our values. They aren't going to share our values for a long, long time, if ever. They'll pay lip service to our values if we have something they want or need, but only for as long as they think we'll keep giving it to them, and privately laugh at us for being so gullible.

    Will we learn these lessons? Not until our leaders start behaving more like leaders, and less like machine politicians. Part of leadership is being able to admit failures in your policy or vision, and accept the consequences. The architects of our policy toward Afghanistan aren't likely to do that any time soon.

    March 26, 2014 12:46 pm at 12:46 pm |
  14. hurtsdonut

    Can't actually argue with anything he said. This administration has failed miserably. But the koolaid is strong and those people are still stuck in the mibdset of the last couple of elections: Us-vs-Them, you're either with us or against us, anyone who disagrees is "the enemy". Maybe when obama is gone his fan club will calm down abd we can restore some sanity and civility to the discussion.

    March 26, 2014 12:47 pm at 12:47 pm |
  15. Tampa Tim

    Why do wingnuts think that diplomacy is "apology and appeasement?" We tried the Bush Doctrine and found that kill first and ask questions later is pretty stupid.

    March 26, 2014 12:47 pm at 12:47 pm |
  16. ObjectiveGuy

    Rumsfeld wasn't perfect, but compared to the mishandling of foreign affairs by the Obama administration, he would be a breath of fresh air. Regarding the "trained ape" comment, I think it is interesting that there are those who chose to even single out this expression as implying something negative against African Americans, when the contextual usage of the term certainly did not infer that in any manner whatsoever. The odd part is that there are liberals and Democrats who apparently think any reference to an ape should be found offensive to African Americans. If I was African American, I would be more insulted by the implication that there even IS any link with the ape comment. THAT is what is demeaning, but then again, that is a major "strategy" of the Democrats–stir up racial hatred where there is none, and then try to capitalize on the racial divisions at the voting booth. It's an extremely destructive and divisive strategy, and is one that should be eliminated.

    March 26, 2014 12:49 pm at 12:49 pm |
  17. CryBabies

    A lot of "warm air" being circulated by the poor, downtrodden, abused, thin-skinned left usual. I'll weep for you.

    March 26, 2014 12:49 pm at 12:49 pm |
  18. Rudy NYC

    The other guy

    Seriously though, if any of you think that our diplomacy is being done in an artful manner in any part of world, you should have your heads checked. I thought we were supposed to be hitting the reset button? At least with fear, you get respect. Now we just get laughed at.
    Respect. Is that what that was when that guy threw his shoes at George W. Bush? What about the time that GWB had went to Saudi Arabia to speak to them about increasing oil production, instead of cutting it back, to combat rising oil prices? What about that time that Bush was abroad and they fed him something that made him loose his cookies? OOH, ooh. And what about the time that Bush was having a photo op, and they had told him to exit through the door but it was locked?

    Do you mean that kind of respect?

    March 26, 2014 12:49 pm at 12:49 pm |
  19. eoyguy

    "Our relationship with Karzai and with Afghanistan was absolutely first rate in the Bush administration..."

    Right, because the US put him in power and propped him up as a puppet regime to do their bidding. Finally when the US decided that Afghanistan is a lost cause, as it always will be, and decides to leave and cut the string, the puppet starts to flail around. Does anyone really care about Afghanistan and the relationship with them? I know I don't, and the sooner we have nothing to do with them the better. Regardless of who is in charge there and whom they are being propped up by, its always going to be a collection of tribes thrown together inside artificial borders, with their warlords and chieftains calling the shots.

    March 26, 2014 12:49 pm at 12:49 pm |
  20. peebo

    comparing Obama to an ape is an egregious insult to the ape.

    March 26, 2014 12:50 pm at 12:50 pm |
  21. Tim

    Given how wrong he was on Iraq having WMDs, apparently the trained ape isn't so darned smart, is he?

    March 26, 2014 12:50 pm at 12:50 pm |
  22. g

    him and the other war criminal chenny should be in jail guarded by apes, not running around spending their War profits

    March 26, 2014 12:51 pm at 12:51 pm |
  23. Michael Nathanson

    What does an untrained ape know about trained apes? Why does the gullible media have to report every utterance of
    discredited and totally irrelevant politicians?

    March 26, 2014 12:51 pm at 12:51 pm |
  24. problem solved

    I think the best way to view rummy and his pals is with ape crap spewing from their lips

    March 26, 2014 12:52 pm at 12:52 pm |
  25. Rudy NYC

    Ancient Texan

    Much ado about nothing. There's always some 'PC police' searching every comment, looking for something to point at and scream about racism, or disrespect, or some other imagined "sin".
    If the man had even a shred of class, decency, or respect, then he would apologize anyway to anyone who was offended. Period. Instead, he says this.......

    "You mean this isn't off the record? Strike when I said 'trained ape.' An untrained ape should know that," he [Rumsfeld] said.

    March 26, 2014 12:52 pm at 12:52 pm |
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