Douglas Feith, the Pentagon's top policy official who became a lightning rod for issues including intelligence on Iraq and information warfare, said on Wednesday that he would resign this summer.
Feith, who as undersecretary of defense for policy represents the department at high-level government meetings on national security, becomes the most senior Pentagon official to announce his departure in President George W. Bush's second term.
In a telephone interview on Wednesday night, Feith said that after the November elections, he told Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld that he wanted to leave this summer, after four years in the job, to spend more time with his family.
He said he had not decided what he would do next.
PRAISE AND BRICKBATS
Feith's wide-ranging portfolio includes policy-making for the campaign against terror, military basing worldwide and arms control. In a statement posted on the Pentagon's Web site, Rumsfeld called Feith "creative, well-organized, and energetic."
But he had some fierce critics. Last fall, Senator Carl Levin, the ranking Democrat on the Armed Services Committee, said that Feith had repeatedly described the ties between Iraq and al-Qaeda as far more significant and extensive than US intelligence agencies had.
Feith's office was responsible for creating the short-lived Office of Strategic Influence, which proposed providing information, possibly even false information, to foreign media organizations as part of an effort to influence public sentiment and policy-makers in friendly and unfriendly countries. Rumsfeld closed the office after its plans were publicized and resulted in a controversy on Capitol Hill.
In the interview on Wednesday night, Feith acknowledged that he was a flash point for many of the Pentagon's most contentious policies: "We're doing the kind of work on the kinds of subjects that you have to expect will be very vigorously debated and challenged."
At a breakfast meeting with reporters on Wednesday, Feith gave no hint of his resignation. Nor, however, was he asked.
CONCERNS ABOUT IRAQ
He signaled that after Iraq's polls on Sunday, US forces would intensify the training of Iraqi security forces, the linchpin of the Bush administration's exit strategy from the country.
"Where we want to go is a greater role for the Iraqis in providing for their own security, and therefore a shift by the United States of those responsibilities to the Iraqis where the coalition forces will be concentrating more and more, over time, on the organize, train and equip effort for the Iraqi forces, rather than on the actual providing of security," Feith said.
He said it was important that not only US advisers and trainers work directly with Iraqi soldiers and police officers, but that senior positions at the Iraqi Defense Ministry and Interior Ministry be filled, and that the ministries work closely with Iraqi forces in the field.
"A large part of what needs to be done is connecting the training forces to the proper command and control, including the linkages up to the ministries," he said. "Having the ministry officials trained and functioning properly is a key part of the success for the Iraqi security forces in general."
At his White House news conference on Wednesday, Bush also underscored the importance of training Iraqis to secure their own country: "Training means not just signing people up ... Training means equipping and preparing them for tough fights, as well as developing a chain of command. A good military requires a chain of command from top to bottom, so that orders and plans and strategies can be effected efficiently."