Douglas Feith, the undersecretary of defense for policy and a driving force behind the Bush administration's strategy for fighting the global war on terror, said in an interview that he decided it was time he devoted more time to his family. He has four children.
"I informed the secretary that I plan to leave in the summer," he said.
He offered no specific resignation date and stressed that he was leaving on his own terms.
Feith would be the highest-ranking Pentagon official to leave the administration. The No. 2 official, Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz, said recently he plans to remain.
Rumsfeld told reporters on Capitol Hill that he had wanted Feith to stay longer and is sorry to lose him.
"I'm hopeful he will stay until we are able to find an appropriate successor," Rumsfeld said. In a brief written statement issued later, Rumsfeld called Feith creative, well-organized and energetic.
"He has earned the respect of civilian and military leaders across the government," Rumsfeld wrote.
Feith, 51, began working with Rumsfeld in March 2001 and was confirmed by the Senate four months later. As Rumsfeld's top policy adviser he manages an organization of about 1,500 people and represents the Pentagon in interagency forums where national security policy is made.
Feith has stirred considerable controversy during his four years at the Pentagon. He oversaw the Office of Special Plans, which critics said fed policy-makers uncorroborated prewar intelligence on Saddam Hussein's Iraq, especially involving purported ties with the al Qaeda terror network.
Army Gen. Tommy Franks, the retired commander of U.S. Central Command, raised eyebrows in Washington when he took a verbal shot at Feith in his autobiography, "American Soldier." Franks, who wrote the war plans for the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq, wrote that Feith was "getting a reputation around here as the dumbest (expletive) guy on the planet."
Franks wrote that while Feith, a lawyer schooled at Harvard and Georgetown, had academic credentials and was personally likable, he posed "off-the-wall questions without relevance to problems."
Larry Di Rita, the chief spokesman for Rumsfeld, said Wednesday that Feith is respected by military commanders. He noted that after Feith made a policy presentation Wednesday to a group of senior commanders, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Richard Myers, delivered a glowing tribute to Feith and thanked him for his contributions over the past four years.
In the AP interview, Feith said he was not sure what he will do after leaving the Pentagon. He said he intends to remain in Washington, where he has lived since the 1970s. He said he was especially proud of his contributions to improving the relationship between the Pentagon's civilian policy-makers, the combat commanders and the staff of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
"Many people have said it is now better than it has ever been," Feith said.
One of the senior officers with whom Feith has worked most closely over the past two years is Army Lt. Gen. Walter Sharp, director of strategic policy and plans for the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
In a telephone interview Wednesday evening, Sharp said Feith insisted on a new, more effective approach to developing policy options for Rumsfeld and Myers. Rather than have the civilian and military staffs work separately on issues, they have closely coordinated at the lowest levels so that recommended solutions could be agreed on before the issue reached Rumsfeld for a decision.
"I have found him to be a person who wants and seeks military advice," Sharp said. "I'm going to miss him. The relationship he has established between OSD (Office of the Secretary of Defense) and the Joint Staff is just a model."
It is Feith's second stint at the Pentagon. He was a special counsel to Richard Perle when Perle was an assistant secretary of defense during the Reagan administration. Before that he was a Middle East specialist at the National Security Council at the White House in 1981-82.
Feith has spearheaded a number of major policy initiatives during his four years at the Pentagon. Among them is a plan to reposition American troops around the world, including a partial withdrawal of troops from South Korea and Germany. He also led a review of U.S. nuclear weapons policy.