updated 8/9/2004 11:57:55 AM ET 2004-08-09T15:57:55

Retired Gen. Tommy Franks, producer of the early military successes in Afghanistan and Iraq, said Sunday that criticism of John Kerry’s war record is political hyperbole and Kerry is “absolutely” qualified to be commander in chief.

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A year into retirement, Franks also said he has not decided whether to endorse President Bush for re-election. “I don’t know yet. I’m leaning in that direction,” he said on ABC’s “This Week.”

Franks, whose hometown is Midland, Texas — where the president and first lady Laura Bush grew up — has been making television appearances in recent days to publicize his just-published memoirs, “American Soldier.”

“Do you think Senator Kerry is qualified to be commander in chief?” Franks was asked.

“Absolutely!” he said.

But like the criticism of Kerry, the retired general said the Democratic nominee’s recent harsh words about the war plan Franks created in Afghanistan was motivated by politics and his failure to capture al-Qaida network leader Osama bin Laden.

“I think a presidential election year is a marvelous thing. I think Senator Kerry is a patriot. And I think what ... what we’re doing is, we’re seeing an attempt to sort of draw the lines between the two parties in this country. And I wouldn’t have it any other way,” Franks said.

The characterization of Kerry as a coward and liar who did not earn the medals awarded him for his Vietnam service came in a television ad sponsored by a group that fashions calls itself Swift Boat Veterans for Truth. Kerry was skipper of one of the small Mekong River boats and received the Silver Star and Bronze Star for valor and three Purple Hearts for wounds.

“I really work hard to stay away from hyperbole,” Franks said. “People ask me all the time about ‘Fahrenheit 9/11’ and then others will ask me about some equally vitriolic view at the end of the continuum on the conservative side.”

“I believe that life really is someplace between the two,” Franks said, “and so I am not a fan of hyperbole, whether it is for or against Senator Kerry or George W. Bush.”

“Fahrenheit 9/11” is the anti-Bush film by documentary filmmaker Michael Moore.

Franks said he also has not decided whether he would want to speak at the Republican National Convention.

“I’m a fiercely independent kind of guy and rather proud of it,” Franks said.

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