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. Bubba Ray

    Rumsfeld is just upset that Obama has started any new wars.
    And who really cares about Karzai.

    March 26, 2014 01:18 pm at 1:18 pm |
  2. kurt

    One war criminal criticizes another. You couldn't make it up.

    March 26, 2014 01:18 pm at 1:18 pm |
  3. Steve In SD

    Hahaha! Criticism of diplomacy from a dude who was able to get ONE of America's staunchest allies to support the 2003 invasion of Iraq.

    March 26, 2014 01:19 pm at 1:19 pm |
  4. Arun

    Why are we listening to these idiots. They lied and took us to war for no reason. The repubes talk about the 4 deaths in Bangazi, but they never talk about the over 4k deaths of US soldiers in Iraq. Why is that??

    March 26, 2014 01:20 pm at 1:20 pm |
  5. Anonymous

    Isn't this the same man that said Iraq would "be a cakewalk" and our troops greeted as "liberators, with flowers"? Hmmm, the man does know an awful lot about mangling international relationships and total mismanagment, but he knows even more about having blood dripping from his hands.

    March 26, 2014 01:20 pm at 1:20 pm |
  6. Tina

    Republicans are good at giving people some ugly names. Well how would you call this beast? Yes and what name? If Obama is trained Ape. Then I think this experience Ape beast did a horrible diplomacy at his time. The whole world hated him. His no heart, no feeling personality kill our wonderful men. Republicans this is a man to be impeached. IMPEACH HIM and send him to Cuban island.

    March 26, 2014 01:20 pm at 1:20 pm |
  7. R. Helms

    Somebody tell me why we should pay any attention to a guy who–along with his cronies Cheney and Kristol in the Project for a New American Century–purposefully lied to the American peopled to get us into an unnecessary war in Iraq that needlessly killed over 5000 American men and women and hundreds of thousands of Iraqis. This old fool is irrelevant and dangerous. Ignore him.

    March 26, 2014 01:20 pm at 1:20 pm |
  8. wood

    Why are black people more sensitive than white people when the term "ape" is mentioned that may be in reference to them?

    March 26, 2014 01:20 pm at 1:20 pm |
  9. my10cents

    Every time Karzai doesn't get what he feels is his due he gets upset with the US. This time current events offered him a chance get involved on a bigger stage while trying to stick it to the US, so he sided with the Russians on the annexation of the Crimean peninsula. There is a perverse irony to the current Afghani leader siding with the former USSR; a country whose occupation and terrorizing of Afghanistan eventually created the power vacuum that led to the take over by the Taliban which created the entire mess the US has tried so desperately to fix. After all these events and time Karzai should be aware that Russian foreign policy is usually a one way negotiation but I think I'm giving him too much credit. I think at this point in time Karzai is just looking to make nice with the Russians in the hope they offer him a place to hide when his term is up because he knows once he no longer has the protection of his office the remaining time on his life clock will be measured in hours.

    March 26, 2014 01:20 pm at 1:20 pm |
  10. tom c

    where does rumdumb rumfeld get his information? he is one of the apes that got us into the middleeast problem we are now in. let Karzai go back to the Russians and their turn and burn warfare of 15 years ago.

    March 26, 2014 01:20 pm at 1:20 pm |
  11. jsmoulder

    Liberals always play the race card, that is why our republic is slipping away under this president.

    March 26, 2014 01:20 pm at 1:20 pm |
  12. Thomas

    Rumsfeld ignored the recommendation from Army Chief of Staff GEN Shinseki that it would take 300,000+ troops to take and hold Iraq. Rumsfeld "knew" they only needed 140,000 – and that is the genesis of the "surge" which eventually occurred; i.e., to get the additional required manpower in country.

    Rumsfeld's judgment is very questionable.


    Don't forget Rumi's little Neocreep side kick Paul Wolfowitz .

    Shinseki is an honorable man , Rumsfeld is not .

    March 26, 2014 01:21 pm at 1:21 pm |
  13. Slip

    And yet, no one here addresses the meat of the matter . . . we basically have no foreign policy anymore except for the POTUS to bow (literally) to every tin-horn dictator.

    Remember when he was making the (supposed) off-the-mic comment to Putin years ago about what he would do after getting re-elected? I guess we know now what the agreement was. To let Russia do as it pleases, and make the U.S. the laughing-stock of the world.

    And he has succeeded.

    March 26, 2014 01:21 pm at 1:21 pm |
  14. notaboblehead

    The trained ape never lied to the public to involve us in a war in Iraq that cost over 5000 American lives and over 125000 Iraqi lives. The trained ape didn't cost our country trillions of dollars in unfunded debt and never ran our economy into the ground. Rumsfeld, Chaney and Bush together have done more to devastate our country and destroy trust in foreign relations than all of the previous trained apes in our countries history. They should have been tried for treason.

    March 26, 2014 01:21 pm at 1:21 pm |
  15. peterz

    The difference between the first class service and the second class service the administrations got was exampled with this kind of comment. The second class service failed the art of a touch.

    March 26, 2014 01:21 pm at 1:21 pm |
  16. TONE

    Rumsfeld was the one who called Musharaff America's friend and Musharaff had bin laden hiding in his back yard so much for foreign policy credentials the president should have pressed charges against these war criminals.

    March 26, 2014 01:21 pm at 1:21 pm |
  17. JC

    Those who are constantly looking for racism will always succeed in their quest.

    March 26, 2014 01:21 pm at 1:21 pm |
  18. Merritt

    Rummy? Trained Ape? Look who's talking!!

    March 26, 2014 01:22 pm at 1:22 pm |
  19. Randy, San Francisco

    This is another verbal gaffe with racial undertones by an angry old white man of the Republican Tea much for outreach to minorities.

    March 26, 2014 01:22 pm at 1:22 pm |
  20. Strategic Bob

    Donald Rumsfeld is, without doubt, the worst Secretary of Defense this nation ever had. He rejected sound advice on many issues, not the least of which is what it would take to secure Iraq after Saddam fell from power. He essentially fired GEN Shinseki (Army Chief of Staff) for doing his duty and giving his best military advice. Rumsfeld does not even have enough personal integrity to apologize to Shenseki. Nor does he have enough integrity to apologize to the many thousands who were killed or maimed because he, Rumsfeld, was too stupid proud to admit that his little experiment in new ways of warfare had failed and that more troops were needed, with better armored vehicles, etc. In wasn't just Shinseki who was ignored by Rumsfeld, either. He deliberately ordered that there be no planning for what to do in Iraq after Saddam fell (i.e., the Phase IV planning that the Joint Staff wanted to do and about which Rumsfeld said he would court-martial the next officer who even mentioned it to him). The man is probably a war criminal but even worse that that, he is a pompous, arrogant fool who is personally responsible for mistakes that caused the deaths or maiming of many thousands of American military men and women. He should rot in jail, and then rot in hell.

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

    A trained ape, Mr. Rumsfeld would have known that you don't outpace your combat units with their supply chain and render the entire military of an invaded country irrelevant or you get exactly what we did....a mess! You should be in prison for what you did because the lives your decisions cost is on your hands.

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

    This from a person that can never again travel abroad without fear of getting arrested and charged with war crimes.
    Uh huh! Right Rummy, right smack on! Good job on Iraq Rummy! NOT!!!

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

    Rumsfeld, who? Is this has been still relevant? Me thinks not. snore....

    March 26, 2014 01:24 pm at 1:24 pm |
  24. The GOP need to pack up and leave

    After being one of the incompetent individuals in the Bush regime who did so much damage to this country, he DARES to say something like that about a president who's doing a great job with diplomacy and foreign relations?

    March 26, 2014 01:24 pm at 1:24 pm |
  25. R Johnson

    Bring on the trained ape as opposed to any in the Bush White House. The 'trained ape' got Bin Laden and is ending two wars started by the Bush Admin. and is no longer giving Karzai money just because.

    March 26, 2014 01:24 pm at 1:24 pm |
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