Throughout the long, documented history of the United States illegally overthrowing governments of foreign lands to build a global empire there has emerged three ways Washington broadly carries out “regime change.”
From Above. If the targeted leader has been democratically elected and enjoys popular support, the CIA has worked with elite groups, such as the military, to overthrow him (sometimes through assassination). Among several examples is the first CIA-backed coup d’état, on March 30, 1949, just 18 months after the agency’s founding, when Syrian Army Colonel Husni al-Za’im overthrew the elected president, Shukri al-Quwatli.
The CIA in 1954 toppled the elected President Jacobo Árbenz of Guatemala, who was replaced with a military dictator. In 1961, just three days before the inauguration of President John F. Kennedy, who favored his release, Congolese President Patrice Lumumba was assassinated with CIA assistance, bringing military strongman Mobutu Sese Seko to power. In 1973, the US backed Chilean General Augusto Pinochet to overthrow and kill the democratically-elected, socialist President Salvador Allende, setting up a military dictatorship, one of many U.S.-installed military dictatorships of that era in Latin America under Operation Condor.
From Below. If the targeted government faces genuine popular unrest, the U.S. will foment and organize it to topple the leader, elected or otherwise. 1958-59 anti-communist protests in Kerala, India, locally supported by the Congress Party and the Catholic Church, were funded by the CIA, leading to the removal of the elected communist government. The 1953 coup in Iran that overthrew the democratically-elected Prime Minister Mohammad Mosaddegh was a combination of bottom-up CIA (and MI-6)-backed street protests, and top-down conservative clergy and military to destroy democracy and return a monarch to the throne. The US-backed Ukrainian coup of 2014 is the latest example of the US working with genuine popular dissent to help organize and steer the overthrow, in this case, of an OSCE-certified elected president.
Through Military Intervention. If a coup is not feasible, the US turns to indirect or direct military intervention. One of earliest examples was the US expeditionary force that invaded Russia in 1918 during the civil war in an attempt to help overthrow the new Bolshevik government. More recently, in 1983 the U.S. military invaded Grenada to overthrow a Marxist president; in 1989 the U.S. invaded Panama to overthrow former CIA asset Manuela Noriega.
Another hybrid operation was the US bombing of Serbia in 1999 and the State Department funding of the opposition group Otpor!, which led to the ouster of Slobodan Milosevic. The most prominent recent examples of direct military invasion to overthrow governments are the U.S.-led invasions of Afghanistan in 2001 and Iraq in 2003. Indirect military intervention through proxies to overthrow governments happened in the 1980s Contra war against Nicaragua; and the 2011 to present jihadist war to overthrow the Syrian government.