SOURCE: Associated Press
By Holly Ramer
Posted: February 28, 2007
Democratic presidential hopeful, U.S. Sen., Joe Biden of Delaware takes a question from Cathy Calob during a Town Hall meeting at New England College in Henniker, N.H., Wednesday, Feb. 28, 2007.(AP Photo/Jim Cole)
HENNIKER, N.H. -- Sen. Joe Biden told college students Wednesday that unlike other presidential hopefuls, he isn't afraid to get specific about Iraq.
"Why am I the only guy who's laid out a plan?" he said echoing a question from a New England College student. "Because it's dangerous. It's politically dangerous to do it."
During his two-day trip to the early voting state, the Democrat from Delaware focused almost exclusively on Iraq, touting his experience as chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and the detailed peace plan for Iraq he released nearly a year ago.
Until the situation is settled in Iraq, "we will have difficulty regaining our flexibility - politically and financially - and our credibility, internationally," Biden told his audience of about 100 people. Iraq is not the only issue, he said, but must be the first order of business.
"It's a little bit like: you can't shovel your driveway because you can't shovel your driveway until you shovel the sidewalk," he said.
He proposes dividing the country along ethnic lines to give the Shia, Sunni and Kurdish groups "breathing room" and then convening an international conference to pressure Iraq to accept a federal form of government.
"Others will come before you from both political parties and will offer you very appealing proposals that range from 'Leave now, and the devil take the hindquarters,' all the way to benchmarks and other things we're well past," he said, suggesting his opponents have not gone far enough in proposing long-term solutions for how to stabilize Iraq.
Biden said his supporters had cautioned him not to put forth a detailed plan, arguing that if it failed to gain traction, he'd lose credibility.
"If I'm wrong, I'm wrong," said Biden. "I've been around so long that if I win or lose this election, I'm going to do it on my own terms."
Biden's most pointed question came Cathy Kalob, a New Orleans native who now teaches social work at the college. How can the United States be a world leader when it has failed its own citizens so badly in the wake of Hurricane Katrina?
Biden called the hurricane the "single most significant political event of the last 20 years" other than the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. The government's response exposed the Bush administration's "compassionate conservatism" mantra as a "load of malarkey," he said.
While the president can't dictate zoning rules and other local decisions that must be made to rebuild the region, he can use his position "to say this is the most pressing, immediate crisis in America," Biden said.
Kalob said later she hasn't made up her mind yet about a candidate and plans to ask other candidates the same question. But she was impressed with Biden's answer.
"He got it. He understands. that's what I'm looking for in a candidate," she said. "I'm more afraid of how in this country we're all vulnerable than I am of the terrorists.