It's not unknown to people that the United States had engaged in many coups d'etat both openly and secretly in order to overthrow foreign governments, or install a loyal one. The country, throughout its large span of history, utilised its armed forces and covert operations to protect US strategic and economic interests by either toppling or 'protecting' the governments of other nations.
These operations were carried out in a variety of countries. And the leaders of the US justified many of these actions as vital to prevent the spread of communism.
In a similar vein, politicians of the 21st century explain American actions in the Middle East as vital for combating terrorism.
Even before the better known cases of American involvement in foreign lands, the US intervention started in the 19th century with invasion of and forced relocation of tribal nations in North America. After World War II, the US started utilising the newly-founded Central Intelligence Agency extensively in the above-mentioned missions. At the turn of the 20th century, the US became more involved in the affairs of the Caribbean Basin.
On Tuesday, John Bolton, a former US ambassador to the United Nations and former White House national security adviser, said that he had helped plan attempted coups in foreign countries. While this is common knowledge for many, it is highly unusual for US officials to openly acknowledge their role in stoking unrest in foreign countries.
Now some obvious questions arise. What follows now? What does it tell about America's democracy, given that one central US concern in these new coups has been to maintain a legal and democratic facade? How would the US' so-called leadership position in promoting human rights, freedom of speech etc. fare now?
We asked experts.
"My first impression, I was not quite surprised, first of all, in the sense that these things have been happening in other parts of the world for decades. But then again, I was also a bit surprised because Bolton seems to be one of those rare personalities who has voluntarily come out with this information," said historian and journalist Syed Badrul Ahsan.
"Nobody asked him to do it. But then he did it. If you look at the past record of American officials, who have been involved in coup attempts or trying to foment coups in different regions of the world, they've kept silent about it. And they've not even written about it. They have not talked about it," explained Badrul, adding, Bolton's statement is thus, in fact, a matter of surprise.
According to him, the revelation of such a kind will place authoritarian governments in stronger positions. He exemplified how Imran Khan's government was removed from power which is an instance of soft coup that is encouraged from abroad, especially from the US.
"Bolton has mentioned Venezuela. We can extend the term. We can go beyond Venezuela. Of course, direct coups are not encouraged for political reasons but the spectre of soft coups is always there," said Badrul.
Syed Badrul argued that one cannot discount the possibility that Imran Khan's downfall and the ongoing crisis in Sri Lanka are linked to the US government's attempts of soft coups. Both Pakistan and Sri Lanka have been in recent times very close to China. Both countries are incidentally in economic troubles.
Sri Lanka has collapsed and Pakistan too is in a dire situation. It is true that the US has not looked kindly on Sri Lanka's close links with China. Neither has it looked kindly on Pakistan's close ties with China.
"Before Imran Khan fell from power, he went on telling that the Americans were after him. In these sorts of situations you don't need proof. In 1977, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto showed a letter from Henry Kissinger, who had warned him that if he did not desist from going ahead with the nuclear programme, he would be made to pay a horrible price. Now, we don't know whether that was actually a letter. But then the fact is, Bhutto was removed from power a few months later in July 1977," explained Badrul.
He added that the question of the American image being tarnished is somewhat irrelevant. The American image has already been tarnished enough.
"The US has always tended to undermine governments. On the other hand, it has professed a respect for human rights. For example, in 1977 when Jimmy Carter came to office, he said the cornerstone of US foreign policy would be human rights everywhere.
Now that ran into criticism because people thought that he was being very idealistic. Maybe so. But then again, at one point, he went to Iran a few months before the Islamic Revolution. And at a banquet, he praised Iran as a stable country representing the symbol of stability in the region. The same Carter who defended human rights later defended a government run by a ruthless ruler, which the Shah of Iran was then. So, these things have happened," explained Badrul.
Imtiaz Ahmed, professor of International Relations at University of Dhaka, said that the confession of John Bolton is important in American history but it is not quite surprising. He added that it is known to everyone that, for decades, the US has been involved in regime changes, forcibly and sometimes violently.
"If you are a superpower, you are exempted from many things. In the same way, it [John Bolton's statement] would not bring any consequences to the US. Noam Chomsky said all the presidents have committed war crimes," said Professor Imtiaz, adding, "But it is interesting and nice to see that someone like John Bolton coming out giving official remarks about coups. The more these things come out, American people will rise to the occasion."
"I hope that American people will take the comment seriously. Until they take it seriously, you cannot stop the US with external pressure. American people – the civil society, the professors, the intellectuals, scholars and students – will need to wake up and think that enough is enough," the professor continued.
He lamented that the Western media is not giving much attention to John Bolton's comment. They will probably treat the matter as if nothing happened. Most probably, Bolton will be discredited being termed as an "outsider," an ex-official who has said something out of frustrations.
"History books written by mainstream historians have a tendency to provide a rosy picture of United States foreign policy. According to this view, American administrations have always been committed to advancing concepts and values such as freedom, democracy and human rights elsewhere," said Imtiaz, adding, "These things are obviously myths, produced by powerful western media and academia. I think these myths will continue to work unless something changes internally, a confession like that of John Bolton will be seen as an aberration."