Running an empire means having a crowded date book. So many anniversaries to remember, or to remember to forget. Only a month ago we had the 50th birthday of the Cuban revolution, and there was Fidel Castro still hale enough at 77 to celebrate that day when he and his comrades attacked the Moncada. A few years later, they rode in triumph into Havana. Chalk up a bad day for Empire.

            Another 50th came this week on August 19, which was the day, back in that same year of 1953, that the CIA supervised the overthrow of the popularly elected Mohammad Mossadegh government in Tehran and installed the Shah on his Peacock Throne, a day that was hailed in Washington, D.C., as a very good one indeed.

            Iran had been dominated by U.S. or British oil companies and intelligence agencies. It was producing 600 tons of opium a year. Then in 1953, the nationalist Mossadegh won election and immediately moved to suppress the opium trade and push forward with land reform and nationalizing the oil industry.

            Within a few weeks, U.S. Secretary of State John Foster Dulles was calling Mossadegh a madman, and Dulles's brother Allen, head of the CIA, dispatched Kermit Roosevelt to organize a coup against him. In the year 2000, the press here published parts of a classified document pertaining to the coup, written by Donald N. Wilbur, an expert in Persian architecture and one of the "leading planners" of the operation "TP-AJAX."

            A paltry $1 million was the sum the CIA spread around Tehran, bringing mobs into the streets. The CIA's "Iranian operatives pretending to be Communists threatened Muslim leaders with 'savage punishment if they opposed Mossadegh'" The "house of at least one prominent Muslim was bombed by CIA agents posing as Communists"; the CIA tried to "orchestrate a call for a holy war against Communism." On August 19, "a journalist who was one of the agency's most important Iranian agents led a crowd toward Parliament, inciting people to set fire to the offices of a newspaper owned by Dr. Mossadegh's foreign minister"; American agents swung "security forces to the side of the demonstrators"; Finally, Dr. Mossadegh and other government officials were rounded up and the day was won. The oil and opium fields were safe for Empire and its local representatives.

            Advised by the CIA, the Shah's secret police drew up their lists of those nationalists and Communists to be arrested, tortured and killed. Generations of young Iranians fled the country, often to the United States. In Iran, it wasn't until 1979 that a truly bad day for Empire arrived, in the form of the Ayatollah Khomeini.

            In 2000, U.S. Secretary of State Madeline Albright made, in her official capacity, a strange admission. Maybe August 19, 1953, hadn't been such a good day after all, neither for Iran nor for the United States. "In 1953, the United States played a significant role in orchestrating the overthrow of Iran's popular prime minister, Mohammed Mossadegh ... the coup was clearly a setback for Iran's political development, and it is easy to see why so many Iranians continue to resent this intervention by America in their internal affair."

            So suppose someone in the Eisenhower administration with clearer foresight than the Dulles brothers had nixed the disbursement of $1 million and told Kermit Roosevelt to come home. Let an Iranian answer that question. Sasan Fayazmanesh teaches economics at California State University in Fresno. Here's what he wrote on the eve of August 19, this year:

            "It is, of course, meaningless to write an iffy history. However, one can't help but imagine how things might have been different had it not been for the Kermits and Wilburs of the world. Would the Islamic Revolution of 1979 have taken place? Would Americans have been held hostage for 444 days in exchange for the shah and frozen assets?

            "Would the U.S. have helped Saddam start the Iraq-Iran war? Would over a million people have died as a result of the war? Would the U.S. have imposed numerous unilateral sanctions against Iran for over two decades and made the (U.S.) captains of industry lose billions of dollars? Would Saddam have invaded Kuwait? Would the U.S. have invaded Iraq twice and be in the mess that it is in right now?

            "I guess a better question is this: Will the U.S. ever learn that the Kermits and Wilburs of the world are not that clever, have no foresight, and, in the long run, do more damage to this country than good?"

            So the Empire has its good days that turn out to be bad, the same way (though it will never admit it) it has its bad days that turn out to be good. Empire, don't forget, is all about turning the world upside down.

            Alexander Cockburn is coeditor with Jeffrey St. Clair of the muckraking newsletter CounterPunch. To find out more about Alexander Cockburn and read features by other columnists and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate Web page at COPYRIGHT 2003 CREATORS SYNDICATE, INC.