Wed | Oct 4, 2023

The oft-repeated saga of verschlimmbesserung

Published:Saturday | September 16, 2023 | 12:06 AM


While reading a UK newspaper online recently, a word that was new to me appeared on the opinion page. The word “verschlimmbesserung” is derived from German meaning, “an attempted improvement that only makes things worse”. The British scribbler listed a litany of well-meaning blunders by his lacklustre government that ended with disastrous results.

To my way of thinking, this new word could easily be applied to any and all governments around the world, and especially in the case of multi-governmental agencies and institutions like NATO. For example, the tragedy that has befallen the eastern Libyan city of Derna was caused by Storm Daniel’s torrential rain of biblical proportions triggering two dams to overflow, washing away bridges and anything else in its path, as hundreds of buildings and thousands of people were swept into the Mediterranean. Early estimates are that perhaps 20,000 Libyans may have perished. However, the tragedy in Derna is exacerbated because there have been two rival governments malfunctioning in Libya since the overthrow of General Muammar Gaddafi a dozen years ago.

Briefly, after ruling for 42 years, Gaddafi’s government was fighting rebel forces from the eastern part of Libya, when NATO intervened on behalf of the United Nations to ostensibly enforce a No-Fly-Zone to stop Gadaffi’s planes bombing the rebels and civilians. NATO’s planes bombed highways and infrastructure creating tremendous destruction and chaos in Tripoli and other ancient cities, then pulled out after Gaddaffi was assassinated by the rebels. Canada even held a bizarre victory party in Ottawa a month before Christmas 2011; the governor-general, prime minister with their spouses and various other dignitaries saluting a fly-past of fighter jets. It cost over $800,000 and resembled George W. Bush’s “Mission Accomplished” fiasco in 2003, as the NATO mission left Libya in a far worse condition than before its intervention, and today the citizens of Derna are victims of that verschlimmbesserung, coupled with Storm Daniel.

Sadly, the same applies in Afghanistan where NATO forces were deployed to capture Osama Bin Laden in 2002, and overthrow the Taliban government. When the troops finally pulled out two decades later, a new Taliban government immediately resumed the reins of power, a clear case of verschlimmbesserung. Then came Iraq in 2003 with the Coalition of the Willing consisting mainly of NATO members, whose mission was to implement regime change in Baghdad. That was achieved with Saddam Hussein hanged, but after years of brutal fighting, terrible loss of life and destruction of more ancient cities, etc, the Iraqi government is closely aligned with its Shia neighbour Iran, a sworn enemy of NATO. Seems anywhere NATO sticks their nose in to meddle in other country’s affairs, the same result is achieved verschlimmbesserung!


Parksville, BC