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Good Question: Are We Safer With Bin Laden Dead?

DU International Studies Expert Shares Insight
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Alan Gionet Good Question
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Written by Alan Gionet

DENVER (CBS4) – There. He said it.

“It is a better place because of the death of Osama bin Laden,” said President Obama at a ceremony bestowing The Medal of Honor on two men killed in the Korean War.

“The world is safer.”

The statement came the day after Obama announced the killing of Osama bin Laden. The night before he warned that the killing of bin Laden was not the end. It’s not. There’s little doubt about that.

But with a central, charismatic figure gone al Qaeda has problems.

“Hopefully we kind of cut off the head of the beast and helped to disorganize the entire network,” said one man downtown.

Osama bin Laden, 54, was a financier, a plotter, a face on al Qaeda. Ayman al-Zawahri, an Egyptian-born surgeon long believed to be al Qaeda’s No. 2, has hardly the charisma to pull together an organization that’s already splintered, hobbled by relentless pursuit and international efforts to go after its finances.

“He’s obviously the No. 2 in the so-called command structure, so I think he would be quote ‘taking over’ but I think it’s going to be difficult for al Qaeda to do what they’ve done in the past,” said said former U.S. ambassador to Iraq Christopher Hill, now dean of the Korbel School of International Studies at the University of Denver. “One, because we have really, really pushed against them in all kinds of ways, including financing. Secondly, I think losing this individual Osama bin Laden is really, really going to hurt that organization.”

“I don’t think he’s quite as relevant a figure as he was some years ago,” said Hill about bin Laden.

Isolated as bin Laden was, hiding in plain sight, there was a gap in wider communications. Al Qaeda and its affiliates are spread out across the globe, with agencies like the CIA attempting to listen in.

It was bin Laden’s courier who led the United States to his door. U.S. officials are pointing to bin Laden’s relative comfort in a million dollar compound seven or eight times the size of the homes around it. There was no phone or Internet service — one clue that led them to the home.

The factions of al Qaeda are faced with big communication difficulties.

“I think it is kind of a already a kind of a franchised organization, they may take their cue but not their instructions from any kind of central organization,” said Hill.

In addition, Hill believes the cycle of history may be moving al Qaeda to the downswing.

“I think when you combine this with the fact that we’ve had a whole Arab spring where there’s been this whole look from the Arab people for the need to make changes, you notice that radical Islam has not been part of that process,” said Hill. “So I think this has been a very positive development.”

Safe without bin Laden? Doubtful. There are still tens of thousands of trained al Qaeda members.

But safer without bin Laden? It’s not a reach.

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