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. Joe newton

    Rumsfeld is an idiotic. He has no creditably after not finding nuclear weapons in Iraq. He was a trained ape working with two others, Chenny and God love him George.

    March 26, 2014 01:03 pm at 1:03 pm |
  2. RT Colorado

    Old Donald knows a thing or two about adiving presidents, he's done it enough and not always with the hoped for results. I didn't care for amny of his decisions during the Bush administration and the Iraqi and Afghan wars. Having said that he also gave good advice at other times in other adminstrations, so maybe there's some kind of balance to it all. The "trained ape" comment in my opinion was not used as a racial slur, but as a term used by many people during the time Mr. Rumfeld served. A common adage was "with enough banana, I could train a money to do that". In this day and age of political correct verbage and a slew of folks looking to divert attention away from thier own failings, any slip of the tongue is labeled racist, bigotted, or biased if only to re-direct attention from the original disussion. Granted, one would think a person with Donald Rumfeld's experience would be a little more savy and careful with the words he uses, then again, I don't believe that Rumsfeld could order a McDonald's Big Mac without offending someone these days.

    March 26, 2014 01:03 pm at 1:03 pm |
  3. Anonymous

    Liberals are nothing other than "trouble makers" who jump at every phrase, every word anyone oppossded to their policies make to stir up false emotions and acrimony. It is another way of trying to silence people- pushing them to be extra careful with whatever they have to say to the point of feeling "keeping numb" is safe territory.
    I am Black, and i strongly feel, Liberals are the ones who are racist. anytime derogatory words like crime, laziness, poverty are used, they quickly try to assocaite it with blacks; anytime food stamps are mentioned, they quickly link it to blacks, and yet by number, all races are on food stamps, with no one race dominating the system. I am sick and tired of them milking that trick for their own political survival

    March 26, 2014 01:03 pm at 1:03 pm |
  4. John

    Because Rummys boys did such a bang up job in Iraq.....

    March 26, 2014 01:04 pm at 1:04 pm |
  5. Gary Taylor

    This man's arrogance knows no bounds. Like Dick Cheney, "We did everything exactly right", this war criminal has the gall to make such an ignorant comment after his direct involvement in the contrived invasion of Iraq. Our soldiers are disabled and die under the leadership of this man?? Our national moral standing in the world is still severely damaged after this war of lies, and tyrants like Putin take advantage. As a nation and world leader, we sow what we reap, Donald. Do this country a favor, just go away and be happy you are not in the court dock under indictment!

    March 26, 2014 01:04 pm at 1:04 pm |
  6. bczu

    Get EM Rumsfield! Invading two countries destroying their government all while creating a stronger Al Qaeda. Now thats diplomacy!!!

    March 26, 2014 01:04 pm at 1:04 pm |
  7. P Herz

    Is this super smart guy repsonsible for Al Qaida's inception via CIA?

    March 26, 2014 01:04 pm at 1:04 pm |
  8. N&W 1000

    Everybody knows Rumsfeld meant this to be racist, because of the KKK saying black people resemble apes.

    March 26, 2014 01:04 pm at 1:04 pm |
  9. rafterman11

    I don't think he meant anything by it, but Rumsfeld is a smart guy. Surely he must have known how that might sound.

    March 26, 2014 01:05 pm at 1:05 pm |
  10. jw

    He has the nerve to talk about anyone's foreign policy? This guy and his buddies Bush and Cheney should be under the prison for the lies and destruction of the USA's global standing. We spent trillions of dollars, lost thousands of US soldiers and killed thousands of innocent civilians because of his stupidity, but Fox News finds him credible? Really?

    March 26, 2014 01:05 pm at 1:05 pm |
  11. Tampa Tim

    The important thing you need to know about Rummy is that when the plane hit the Pentagon, he ran inside to pull his injured people out. The rest is Bravo Sierra.

    Can you imagine Obama or Hillery doing that? Not a chance.
    I tried to verify your story, but could not. Security hustled Rummy out of the Pentagon to the helipad. He did not do what you said. An officer Wallace did though.

    March 26, 2014 01:06 pm at 1:06 pm |
  12. mark

    Am always amused when somebody associated with the last administration tries to speak as an authority on any matter dealing with foreign policy. The most incompetent and deceitful administration ever, who mismanaged every situation that came their way. Trained ape would have been way beyond the capabilities of Bush and Rumsfeld.

    March 26, 2014 01:06 pm at 1:06 pm |
  13. BADGUY

    This guy is a living.... breathing was the GWB administration...he "served". NOTHING he says has any meaning.

    March 26, 2014 01:06 pm at 1:06 pm |
  14. Gary

    Their great leader, GWB has managed to sray quiet the last few years. Too bad His trained apes can't. Between Rumsfield and Cheney, all they are good for was starting wars.

    March 26, 2014 01:06 pm at 1:06 pm |
  15. Dave

    This is the funniest thing I've ever read. Anybody have a shoe so I can throw at this idiot? LMAO

    March 26, 2014 01:07 pm at 1:07 pm |
  16. nonya bidness

    seriously? this guy is throwing stones? what a sick excuse for a human being he is!

    March 26, 2014 01:07 pm at 1:07 pm |
  17. Tampa Tim

    The important thing you need to know about Rummy is that when the plane hit the Pentagon, he ran inside to pull his injured people out. The rest is Bravo Sierra.

    Can you imagine Obama or Hillery doing that? Not a chance.
    Rummy did not do what you said. You misread the article.

    March 26, 2014 01:07 pm at 1:07 pm |
  18. Malory Archer

    Ragin Cajun

    Criticism of Obama by a white man equals cause to play race card.


    No, criticism of President Obama by ANYONE from the previous occupant of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue's 8-year reign of error is extremely hypocritical.

    Criticism by the 2008 & 2012 also-rans is pathetically laughable. But hey, it's always fun to laugh at sore losers!

    March 26, 2014 01:08 pm at 1:08 pm |
  19. George Bush Rice

    You know why Rumhead I mean Rumsfeld thinks it's easy to get a status of forces agreement? Because he would just threaten Afghanistan into submission. An agreement is not a default, both sides want things as part of an agreement, if you cant agree there's no agreement, simple as that.

    March 26, 2014 01:08 pm at 1:08 pm |
  20. Emerson

    Who cares what this disgraced man says, other than the FOX true haters of anything outside of their incredibly narrow self interest zone ? And as for "being pudhed into a political box", what about the effect of unnecessary wars of the prior administration on the ability of the President to decide on the option to go to war after 11 years of the US miltary being ground to a nub? As for Karzai, the best diplomacy is to cut him loose from our payroll and let his own "people" take care of him.

    March 26, 2014 01:09 pm at 1:09 pm |
  21. Bryan

    This is a non-story. If he had referred to Obama as a "trained ape" it would be a little offensive but this is just more talk to instigate even more division in this country. It's too bad the media is so content with manipulating the minds of Americans.

    March 26, 2014 01:09 pm at 1:09 pm |
  22. Jason Viper

    Give me a break. I think the only racists are the ones trying to associate the comment to the President. So I guess the terms "400# gorilla in the room" and "monkey on my back" can no longer be used any more either? SMH

    March 26, 2014 01:09 pm at 1:09 pm |
  23. Robert N. constant

    Donald Rumsfeld personally delivered to Saddam Hussein a pair of golden spurs which were a gift from Ronald Reagan. Reagan recruited and armed Saddam Hussein to wage war against the Iranians after they had taken hostages at the American Embassy. The United
    States supplied him with everything he needed to wage war, including the chemicals with which to manufacture poisoned gas.
    His relationship was so tight with the Reagan Administration that Al qaeda hated him and considered him an American puppet. His photograph says it all" western dress, business suit, white shirt tie. His was a secular rule with alcohol and western dancing. Rumsfeld helped create this Frankenstein. His judgement is, at best, suspect.

    March 26, 2014 01:09 pm at 1:09 pm |
  24. Hogan's Goat

    What's this senile old fool on about now? Someone at the home must have let him listen to FOX again. Get the nurse and give him his meds.

    March 26, 2014 01:09 pm at 1:09 pm |
  25. Liz

    So sick of the left and the "race card". THERE was NOTHING racial about what he said. In fact, I have stated MY dog could run this country better than whats in the WH now.. Idiots.. Anytime they can throw the card out to distract..

    March 26, 2014 01:10 pm at 1:10 pm |
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