According to World War 3 News, a fascinating if pessimistic website that collates news relating to "the next World War", 37 percent of the 13,000 visitors polled so far believe the United States will start World War III. Twenty-two percent believe it will be Russia.
In a more scientific but no less interesting survey last year, WIN/Gallup International asked 66,000 in 65 countries and found the United States "is the greatest threat to peace in the world today." The results show Pakistan and China a long way behind with 8 and 6 percent respectively. Afghanistan, Iran, Israel and North Korea all tied for fourth with 4 percent. The National Review, aghast at the results, offered an explanation: "Much of the world's moral compass is broken."
It isn't. It is not just the wars in Iraq, Afghanistan and Vietnam that have secured America's bloodthirsty reputation. It is a long history of secretive and illegal coups starting in 1953 in Iran. The "overwhelming evidence" that President Barack Obama has produced that shows Russian President Vladimir Putin is using dirty tactics in eastern Ukraine is nothing the United States hasn't done before. It's the stench of hypocrisy that is overwhelming.
It's been heartening to see the duplicity of governments in Washington, which have literally got away with murder in the past 10 years, and indeed over the past six decades, being called out in such a public way by Putin. He has made a compelling case against Western aggression for the first time in decades.
Obama may now have run to tell teacher that Putin is being a naughty boy, but as we'll see below, an unusual number of publicly available evidence suggest the United States was also punching below the belt during Euromaidan.
And for years before the revolution, expansionists in Washington have been actively steering Ukraine away from Russia: a tradition of encroachment and antagonisation that started with Bill Clinton, saw NATO expand despite explicit public promises made to Mikhail Gorbachev and supporting the European Union to deepen its influence right under Russia's porch.
But unsurprisingly, it turns out the Russian bear has claws — gas pipelines that supply 100% of the gas in six European countries. Special forces and intelligence tactics that are so polished Crimea has already fallen with barely a shot fired. Eastern Ukraine may well go the same way.
Those who lose out in these international power plays are not the unaccountable Western governments who order them, but the people on the ground. The Ukrainian people don't need a war or to be split in two. They need fast economic aid and a helping hand as it languishes in debt. They need job security and government services that provide for them.
Washington's provocations of Russia have caused this mess in Ukraine — no two ways about it. Putin is unstable and has his own political motivations for starting the conflict. But regardless of his personal reasoning, hawks in Washington (I'm looking at you, John McCain) should not be needlessly provoking such a dangerous beast simply to enrich themselves, to make their name in history, to come good on the promises of exceptionalism and imperialism.
Here are five illegal regime changes Washington has perpetrated, starting with the Shah in Iran and leading right up to events in Euromaidan square. If you're reading this and you're American, I'm not blaming you. Unless you hold a senior decision making role within any American government in the last six decades. Then you're in.
1. Iran in 1953: Installing the Shah
As America adjusted to its new role as a world superpower, the first major coup was in the Middle East. Agents from the CIA operated closely with British intelligence, seeking to install a new puppet shah in Iran. The two powers wanted access to Iran's oil fields and were also concerned that the country might otherwise fall behind the Iron Curtain, signaling a major setback in the nascent Cold War. Two years before, the Iranian people had elected a president, and the Shah, a hereditary ruler, had fled the country. Moves to nationalize the country's oil production threatened the supremacy of the Anglo-Persian oil company, later to become British Petroleum. Planning documents for the coup, declassified last year, state "No remedial action other than the covert action plan set forth below could be found to improve the existing state of affairs."
The documents reveal how in the months leading up to the coup British and American agents started placing articles in the American and Iranian media criticizing the new administration. They organized street protests, trained and equipped pro-Shah forces and helped convince the Iranian army to join with the revolution. The democratically elected leader was ousted, and the Shah returned to power. He would rule, with the backing of the West, until the Islamic revolution in 1979.
In 1957 the CIA established an organization in Tehran called SAVAK and taught them how to interrogate political prisoners. Amnesty International reported methods of torture that included "whipping and beating, electric shocks, extraction of teeth and nails, boiling water pumped into the rectum, heavy weights hung on the testicles, tying the prisoner to a metal table heated to a white heat, inserting a broken bottle into the anus, and rape." Fifty thousand Iranians died fighting this regime. Eighty percent could not own land. Sixty percent of adults were illiterate. The judiciary was dismantled and the press muzzled. Was Washington in favor of democracy in Iran? Apparently not.
2. Chile in 1973: Richard Nixon getting his hands dirty
Documents declassified in 2003 reveal how the CIA played a key role in backing a bloody coup that left a president dead and thousands in prison. Unusually for secretive regime change campaigns, President Richard Nixon personally signed off $700,000 in funding toward the operation, as well as pouring millions through secretive channels to right-wing Chilean parties.
"It is firm and continuing policy that Salvador Allende [the leftist president of Chile] be overthrown by a coup," a CIA analyst wrote in 1970. "It is imperative that these actions be implemented clandestinely and securely so that the USG [U.S. government] and American hand be well hidden."
To convince the Chilean people that submitting themselves to a military dictatorship was a necessary evil, the CIA conducted a series of false flag operations — bombings across Chile designed to look like terror attacks. The CIA was also given orders to "make the economy scream" to "prevent Allende from coming to power or to unseat him.”
The 1973 coup marked the beginning of 17 years of U.S.-sponsored bloodshed in Chile. The regime went on to authorize the killings or disappearances of over 3,000 Chileans. Just weeks after the coup, the U.S. ambassador in Santiago sent a memo to Secretary of State Henry Kissinger asking for "the assistance of a person qualified in establishing a detention center for the detainees ... adviser must have knowledge in the establishment and operation of a detention center."
The head of Chile's secret police was later revealed to be on the CIA's payroll and visited Washington several times while he organized mass killings, torture and arrests.
3. Grenada in 1983: "Doing a Putin"
The 1983 American invasion of Grenada bears more than a passing resemblance to Putin's strategy against Ukraine. A tropical island with a population of 90,000, Grenada had recently won independence from the last vestiges of the British Empire. A leftist Grenadian president, who President Ronald Reagan didn't much like, subsequently seized power in a military takeover of the island's government.
A small number of American students on the island provided Washington with a convenient excuse to invade and topple the government. Just like in Crimea, those seeking to justify the presence of U.S. Marines on Grenadian soil claimed locals supported the invasion.
The American public loved the bold move. Criticisms from the United Kingdom, Canada and the United Nations were rarely aired by the American press, even when the UN called the invasion "a flagrant breach of international law."
4. Afghanistan in 2002: Introducing "the horse soldiers"
Afghanistan was the first major U.S. invasion to be planned and led by the CIA, rather than the Army or U.S. Marines. Known as "horse soldiers," on account of infiltrating the Afghan mountains on horseback, 100 CIA officers and 350 American special forces worked with local Northern Alliance fighters to rapidly defeat and depose the Taliban in 2002.
CIA agents from the Special Activities Division had entered the country in 2001, laying the groundwork for Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld's preferred mode of regime change: small numbers of excellently equipped special forces, supported by warrior-diplomat CIA officers. Although the theatre was later to descend into anarchy, an article in the New York Times judged the takeover deserved "a hallowed place in American military history."
5. Ukraine in 2013: Coup 2.0
In August 2013, the State Department's man in Kiev, Geoffrey Pyatt, approved approximately $50,000 in funding for a new Ukrainian web TV station called Hromadske.TV.
The funds were just enough to purchase the equipment for the station. But Hromadske.TV kept quiet at first, only choosing to go online just a couple of hours after President Viktor Yanukovych announced he was rejecting an EU deal, back in November.
It was a critical time — and the footage that Hromadske.TV pumped out via its website was lapped up both by Ukrainians and foreign news channels.
"Without their joint funding of Hromadske.tv and its streaming video from the Euromaidan," investigative journalist Steve Weissman argues, "the revolution might never have been televised, and Yanukovych might have crushed the entire effort before it gained traction."
There's also the suspiciously beautiful girl in the suspiciously successful viral video for Euromaidan "I am a Ukrainian," which wasn't produced by grassroots activists in the square (although it presents itself that way) but instead by an American filmmaker closely linked with American Larry Diamond, of the prestigious Washington think tank the Council on Foreign Relations. The think tank is believed to have close ties with the State Department.
Soros, who is a philanthropist and very sympathetic with Washington's neo-liberal foreign policy, funded a Ukrainian Crisis Media Center "to inform the international community about events in Ukraine," as well as funding the activities of around 80 NGOs in Ukraine. These later became the bedrock of New Citizen, a "civic platform" for change that became a significant player in Euromaidan politics — almost entirely funded by the American government.
All this on top of a top diplomat being caught on tape discussing who the next leader of the Ukraine should be, means the pot might be calling the kettle black when the West cries foul at Putin's mischief in Ukraine.
This list is far from complete: Over the years the U.S. has engineered backhand regime change in South Vietnam, Turkey, El Salvador and Nicaragua. Not to mention Iraq, an example Putin is all to eager to raise whenever his methods are criticized.
What Putin's doing isn't right, but it's also nothing that Washington hasn't either time and time again since the Second World War.