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. barryinlasvegas

    As soon as I saw the headline I knew CNN and the other PC police at CNN would be out to crucify Rumsfeld. Can't we just speak anymore without the PC police creating two extra days of news stories out of nonsense?

    March 26, 2014 12:53 pm at 12:53 pm |
  2. 1alien1

    why the shock? this is the typical conserv repub speaking his mind. i always like how after they slip and say what they beleive, you hear oh, it's not what i meant. damn liberal press

    March 26, 2014 12:54 pm at 12:54 pm |
  3. Jon

    Based pm rumsfeld's record of incompetency, I put absolutely no credence in anything he has to say. If I had my way
    he and bush and cheney would still be serving hard time for their actions with Iraq that cost 5,000 American lives, almost a trillion down the toilet with nothing to show for it , but the emnity of the entire Mideast and the rise of terrorists now throughtout the Mideeast. Rumsfeld is a low life criminal.

    March 26, 2014 12:55 pm at 12:55 pm |
  4. Jim

    Do you people remember that the democrats also voted to go into Iraq and Rumsfeld doesn't make those decisions. He carries out orders. When Bush was in power people feared us, now we are weak and run by a feeble minded individual like yourselves.

    March 26, 2014 12:55 pm at 12:55 pm |
  5. truthbetold1226

    We expect this from a CREEP that sent 5000+ of our bravest to their death is a war PUMPED UP on LIES.

    He is a LOSER, and losers talk like losers!!

    March 26, 2014 12:56 pm at 12:56 pm |
  6. Jim

    Wow. It was debated that this sub-moron should be prosecuted for war crimes and he has the nerve to talk about what a "trained ape" should know or do. A trained ape would know better than to stage an invasion and occupation of a sovereign country (or two) on a completely fictional basis. This man and the other Rove cronies (including President Bush) are responsible for more deaths than any few people since the Nazi regime.

    March 26, 2014 12:56 pm at 12:56 pm |
  7. Eardley Ham Woodbury, MN

    "Trained ape" is an unfortunate choice of words but the man is right–the administration has badly bungled the Mideast situation almost from the git-go. Of course Mr. Rumsdumfeldt was part of the initial lie-fest that got us into the muck in the first place, so it is sort of the pot calling the kettle–oops, I can't complete that homily.

    March 26, 2014 12:56 pm at 12:56 pm |
  8. Joi Gibson

    @Dominican Mama
    Amen. And why, why, WHY does anyone listen, let alone repeat what this clown has to say-because their foreign policy was just so amazing that we ended up in two quagmires for ten plus years and depleted our treasury and sent troops to fight with shoddy equipment and were so arrogant as to think we would be saving the Middle East and we would be hailed as heroes, and in the end even Bush had enough of him. These people make me ill.

    March 26, 2014 12:56 pm at 12:56 pm |
  9. anthny76

    "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?"

    How many lives and dollars did "Apology and Appeasement" cost this country?
    How many lives and dollars did "Shock and Awe" and "Where's Bin Laden" cost this country?
    Now lets talk about foreign policy....

    March 26, 2014 12:57 pm at 12:57 pm |
  10. Ron L

    As a black American male I would like to say if you have ever paid attention to Mr. Rumsfeld in the past you would know the "trained ape" statement has to do with "ALL PEOPLE" he believes he is smarter than. What is interesting to me is how TERRIBLE" a job he did with the middle east. America will have lost at least 1 trillion dollars, 1000's of American lives, 100's of thousands of Iraqi lives, more 1000's of Americans injured and in 10 years nothing will have change over there!!! Because THEY ARE NOT YET READY for AMERCAN democracy. Even a "trained ape" should have been able to see that!!

    March 26, 2014 12:57 pm at 12:57 pm |
  11. Underwaterops

    He botched Iraq.
    He failed to anticipate the insurrection.
    He failed to find the WMD he instructed the CIA to say was there.
    Not a credible witness here.

    March 26, 2014 12:57 pm at 12:57 pm |
  12. Chris

    Relax dems... it's an expression.

    March 26, 2014 12:58 pm at 12:58 pm |
  13. garymac

    hurtsdonut, read my lips, "Congratulations Madam President"...It going to be a long time before a republican becomes President...

    March 26, 2014 12:58 pm at 12:58 pm |
  14. Abe

    Why Rumsfeld insulting the apes?

    March 26, 2014 12:58 pm at 12:58 pm |
  15. Gurgyl

    I still don't understand why this idiot is talking about foreign policy. Very pathetic. He is supposed to be in Gittmo. Criminal..

    March 26, 2014 12:59 pm at 12:59 pm |
  16. AW

    The biggest mistake President Bush ever made was have Rumsfeld serve as Secretary of Defense. Then after he realized how much he was so out of the loop he didn't get rid of him. So really two big mistakes. I love how all these Monday morning QB's think they could of did better. Please just take your undeserved pension and just retire. Oh by the way I am republican and a retired Army vet.

    March 26, 2014 12:59 pm at 12:59 pm |
  17. Jim

    These comments coming from the man who coined the phrase, "You go with the Army you have, not the one you wished you had" in response to why our troops weren't properly equipped when they initially went into Afghanistan.

    March 26, 2014 12:59 pm at 12:59 pm |
  18. rafterman11

    I don't think he meant anything by it, but come on., what is wrong with all the 'cons and foot in mouth disease? Even if he didn't mean anything racial, surely Rumsfeld is smart enough to know how that might sound.

    March 26, 2014 12:59 pm at 12:59 pm |
  19. Ragin Cajun

    Criticism of Obama by a white man equals cause to play race card. When are we going to get past this lame play?

    March 26, 2014 01:00 pm at 1:00 pm |
  20. JohnRJohnson

    It is quite curious that those comments which are critical of the administration's handling of the crisis in Crimea offer no specifics at all about what they would do. In effect, they simply resort to name-calling, just like Rumsfeld. Rumsfeld has been desperately trying to rehabilitate his public image since he left the Bush administration. Not working.

    March 26, 2014 01:00 pm at 1:00 pm |
  21. Expat American

    Rummy and the GOP want another carpet bombing a la 'shock and awe' in Russia? Tough talk from Donald Goring of the War Criminal Republican Nazi Bush Administration.

    March 26, 2014 01:01 pm at 1:01 pm |
  22. Kevin

    Rumsfeld is absolutely correct.

    March 26, 2014 01:01 pm at 1:01 pm |
  23. writergeekboxer

    Well who would know better how to handle diplomacy than Rumsfeld? After all, he's got a stellar track record himself. With his help, we entered the very successful Iraq war and got those WMD. Never mind how quickly bin Laden was snagged! Oh wait, there were no WMD, Obama got bin Laden, and Iraq wasn't really a success. Ooops. Never mind.

    March 26, 2014 01:01 pm at 1:01 pm |
  24. Retired Army in San Antonio

    And a trained ape could've came up with a better Afghan Battle Strategy......than Rumsfield did.

    Oh.....wait.....I really DID mention Rumsfield by name.....

    March 26, 2014 01:02 pm at 1:02 pm |
  25. rafterman11


    Or, maybe when Obama is gone, the right wing will stop stomping their feet and end their hissy fit over Obama getting elected, and sanity and civility can return to the discussion.

    March 26, 2014 01:03 pm at 1:03 pm |
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