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. Angela

    He's in the training business he and Chaney trained Bush to ruin this country so he should know.

    March 26, 2014 01:24 pm at 1:24 pm |
  2. notogop

    It's really unbelievable that Rumsfeld, Cheney and Bush have the gonads to criticize anyone about anything. Rumsfeld is the worst Sec. Of Defense since McNamara. Cheney is the worst (most corrupt/evil) VP since the Taft Administration and as inept as Dan Quail. Nothing needs to be said about W other that look at his history. These guys are amazing.

    March 26, 2014 01:24 pm at 1:24 pm |
  3. JJ in DC

    Being called an idiot/incompetent by Rumsfeld??? Using the old saying "Takes on to know one" would make him an expert on idiots and incompetency. But given his specific record w.r.t. Afghanistan and Iraq, aka having gotten everything wrong, I'll go with the specific over the general and wonder why anyone would pay this guys speaking fee, other than to hear him lie.

    March 26, 2014 01:24 pm at 1:24 pm |
  4. Vincent

    Hey Rumsfeld do you remember when the soldier in Iraq ask you when would they get that Armor to protect US Lives and you had the deer in the Headlight look? Priceless

    March 26, 2014 01:25 pm at 1:25 pm |
  5. Tim

    I feel strongly that Donald Rumsfeld is a criminal who has violated international law with his defense department actions. He is an outsider in his own party and like, Kissinger, has no place in civil discourse. Please stop printing the ravings of this lunatic.

    March 26, 2014 01:25 pm at 1:25 pm |
  6. peterz

    To Rumsfeld, who not looking like "Bush" was an "ape"? Something really not quite right.

    March 26, 2014 01:26 pm at 1:26 pm |
  7. weezer

    With Repub conservatives it always comes down to: Blacks = trained or untrained apes.

    The white robes and pointy hats are not that well concealed in their closets.

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

    Why hasn't this man been brought to trial yet?

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

    We've killed 50,000+ terrorist there, Iraq was gassing their own (weapon of mass destruction) and 80+% of us voted to go to war after 911-where more died than Pearl Harbor that got us into WW2! No brain required, we had to go to war! Muslim terrorist as well as evil dictators and communist countries are the problems not the USA FYI! At least get that straight-again, no brainer.

    March 26, 2014 01:26 pm at 1:26 pm |
  10. td40

    Racist comment? No, not necessarily. But the problem here is that you have someone who doesn't have the social filter to understand that any phrase with the word "ape", when talking about an African American, is going to be seen in a negative light, so you have to question a person's general intelligence when they say something like that. Personally, I find it astounding that someone who is not smart enough to understand to *not* use that phrase in reference to an African American could have such a high profile, high paying position of power in the first place.

    March 26, 2014 01:26 pm at 1:26 pm |
  11. Rummy is still wrong

    A trained ape would know Rumsfeld was wrong in 2002 when he said "There's no debate in the world as to whether they have those weapons. We all know that. A trained ape knows that."

    I mean, look at all those WMDs we found just laying all over Iraq and everywhere else in the middle east. That crap Colin Powell was told to sell to the world might as well have been satelite images of boxed sand.

    March 26, 2014 01:27 pm at 1:27 pm |
  12. Larry

    I appreciate his attempt to explain how much better the republicans are at foreign policy than the democrats. They get us into wars and the democrats get us out. Democrats then refuse to start new wars and the republicans claim that is poor foreign policy and show weakness on the part of the democrats. Really? How do the republicans really get anyone to vote for them because I sure can't think of a reason to do so.

    March 26, 2014 01:27 pm at 1:27 pm |
  13. Larry

    Rumsfeld criticizing? LOL

    March 26, 2014 01:27 pm at 1:27 pm |
  14. Noteworthy

    Rumsfeld and the rest of the crazy Republicans LOVE to use their little code words to hide their blatant racism. They continuously throw out derogatory and racist statements when talking about President Obama and then try to walk back their statements later. The problem is that the statement is now out there and it emboldens the crazy righty racists out there. Nice job idiot Rumsfeld... someone who has no place criticizing anyone's foreign policy after lying us into Iraq and ignoring the correct recommendations to win the war.

    March 26, 2014 01:27 pm at 1:27 pm |
  15. notogop

    Need to put Rummy under a bigger rock. He got out from under his previous one much too easily.

    March 26, 2014 01:27 pm at 1:27 pm |
  16. Phil Muse

    "Trained ape," eh? Fine words, coming from one of the cattle rustlers who started this country on the stampede to war in the Middle East.

    March 26, 2014 01:28 pm at 1:28 pm |
  17. TheSteveR

    News flash – diplomatic relations with Afghanistan ended when the US bombs began to fall. Even an untrained ape knows that. Afghanistan, the country we sided with until we didn't but now should. Got it.

    March 26, 2014 01:29 pm at 1:29 pm |
  18. Christo Holloway

    I was going to refer to Rumsfeld as a trained ape himself, but I do not want to insult any apes out there. This idiot should stay on the ranch and lock the gate and quietly was the blood off his hands..

    March 26, 2014 01:29 pm at 1:29 pm |
  19. richard in texas

    2 trillion $ in U.S. debt and 5,000 body bags with countless injuries (physical and mental) and this moron is still talking.He should be held for war crimes.... why isn't he hiding?

    March 26, 2014 01:30 pm at 1:30 pm |
  20. TONE


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

    rummy is a racist that is what i think.

    March 26, 2014 01:30 pm at 1:30 pm |
  21. sgurdog

    And by failed diplomacy Rumsfeld means that we should've continued to drop crates of cash on Karzai's doorstep.

    March 26, 2014 01:30 pm at 1:30 pm |
  22. kiwisepp

    The core of leadership made of Rumsfield, Cheney and Bush, is the worst what America had even have.

    March 26, 2014 01:31 pm at 1:31 pm |
  23. jim

    To .... J.R.
    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.


    Bush was reading to children when the planes hit, and continued to read until he was done.

    March 26, 2014 01:32 pm at 1:32 pm |
  24. Bill, Bloominton IL

    HA HA. Obama is doing a grat job with diplomacy?

    March 26, 2014 01:32 pm at 1:32 pm |
  25. Andy

    No controversy with me. He was right on point

    March 26, 2014 01:32 pm at 1:32 pm |
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