Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld (search) on Tuesday defended a top aide who was severely criticized by Gen. Tommy Franks (search), the top U.S. commander in the Iraq war.

In an interview with The Associated Press, Rumsfeld called Undersecretary Douglas Feith (search) "without question one of the most brilliant individuals in government."

Franks wrote in his autobiography "American Soldier" that Feith was "getting a reputation around here as the dumbest (expletive) guy on the planet."

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," Franks wrote.

The general offered softer criticism of Secretary of State Colin Powell (search), Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage (search) and Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz (search).

Rumsfeld called Franks' criticism "kind of strange" and said the general was a "world-class gentleman."

Feith, Rumsfeld said, "is just a rare talent. He is one of the intellectual leaders in the administration."

Rumsfeld's praise was seconded by Gen. Richard B. Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. "Doug is very bright and brings a very good strategic view to the table. He has solved some real problems," Myers said in a separate interview.

Rumsfeld said Feith, along with some nongovernment analysts, proposed training Iraqis before the war and giving them a chance to participate in Iraq's liberation.

But Franks and other senior military officers were focused on the impending war and did not adopt Feith's "logical idea," Rumsfeld said.

A few Iraqis were trained for postwar security but "not in the volume that many had hoped," Rumsfeld said.

Rumsfeld said Feith helped shape policy to stem the spread of weapons technology, devise the U.S. response to terrorism and frame the Bush administration's global peace initiative.

"He just makes an enormous contribution," Rumsfeld said.

"The contributions Doug Feith has made in this department are truly significant," Rumsfeld said. "Tommy knows it, too. I am sure he does. He is a terrific guy and things just came out."

Myers, meanwhile, credited Feith with a "great perspective" and "great respect for the military."

In planning the war with Iraq, Feith "looked at implications of various actions that other might not think about," Myers said.

"Everybody who sat around the table brought a little different perspective and the end result was a much more creative plan than anyone could have developed on his own," Myers said.