Author Fletcher Knebel on Iran
Wisecracks In Potomac Fever Column (1951-53)

Arash Norouzi
The Mossadegh Project | July 15, 2021                    

Potomac Fever | Fletcher Knebel on Iran (1951-1953)

Fletcher Knebel (1911–1993) (pronounced keh-nable) was an American novelist, newsman and syndicated newspaper columnist.

Seven Days In May (1964) Specializing in political fiction, Knebel’s best known book was the Cold War thriller Seven Days In May (1962), which he co-wrote. The story of an attempted military coup in the USA, it was a #1 bestseller and was soon made into a movie directed by John Frankenheimer and starring Burt Lancaster, Kirk Douglas, Fredric March and Ava Gardner.

Night of Camp David (1965), another bestseller, was about a mentally deranged, delusional U.S. President. With its renewed timeliness during the Trump years, it was reissued in 2018 with enthusiasm. Famed journalist Bob Woodward told The New York Times he recently reread it prior to the release of his insider account Fear: Trump in the White House.

Knebel’s Potomac Fever, which he wrote from 1951 to 1964, was a humor column made up of a series of one-liners culled from the news. Each line typically began with the set-up — a quick sketch of a random news item — followed by a snide reply. Meanwhile, he also wrote straight news pieces, such as an Oct. 1951 article on the Iranian oil crisis: Only U.S. Aid Can Save Unwilling Iran for the West.

In 1959, during the 1960 Presidential race, the candidates weighed in on Knebel’s wide influence. Vice President Richard Nixon observed, “In a town where most politicians and pundits take themselves much too seriously, Fletcher Knebel’s often-quoted witticisms are responsible for many tension-relieving chuckles.”

Remarked John F. Kennedy, “Without a doubt, Fletcher Knebel is Washington’s most widely-read and widely-plagiarized commentator on current events. I hope he is so accustomed to having his deft observations used by other speakers that he will excuse my continuing to do so.”

In Feb. 1993, suffering from lung cancer and other ailments, Knebel took his own life with an overdose of sleeping pills. He was 81.

Potomac Fever

February 11, 1951

President Truman sends the Shah of Iran and his bride-to-be a glass vase. [Soraya Esfandiari Bakhtiari] It’s circular so the bride can walk around it and admire herself in the $150,000 mink coat Joe Stalin sent her.

May 17, 1951

Secretary Acheson says the U.S. has asked England and Iran to use moderation in their oil fight. They’ll try moderation this once, but prefer using U.S. dollars for all future settlements.

[Britain received significant American economic aid.]

May 20, 1951

Britain sent eight more ships to her Mediterranean fleet, while insisting that Iran negotiate the oil argument. The fleet may not know it, but it’s investigating the oil slicks of a submerged empire.

May 27, 1951

Britain asks the International court of justice to settle her oil dispute with Iran. It would be easier to follow the old Persian adage. Less oil in the hair. More grease in the palm.

June 14, 1951

The Russians start a new blockade of Berlin and kill an Iranian border guard. West Point and Annapolis are expected to react by going to a war schedule, turning out finished senate committee witnesses in less than three years.

June 21, 1951

England steels herself as Iran’s flag is hoisted over the British-owned Anglo-Iranian Oil Co. Some nations are born great, some achieve greatness and some have greatness rust upon them.

June 22, 1951

Iranian crowds stage anti-British demonstrations in the Middle East oil dispute. At stake is a principle as old as Iran’s premier, Muchadough.

June 27, 1951

Two U.S. navy destroyers have been sent to the Persian Gulf. Perhaps they will have an opportunity to squirt some water on Iran’s troubled oil.

June 28, 1951

Secretary of State Dean Acheson accuses Iran of using “threat and fear” against Britain in the oil dispute. Now how did that secret conference between Attlee and Churchill four hours earlier leak so fast? [Clement Attlee and Winston Churchill]

[Quote from Acheson’s June 27th press statement]

June 29, 1951

President Truman says Britain and Persia ought to get together and settle their oil dispute. That’s advice from such a high source that you know we’ll even try magic carpet diplomacy.

June 30, 1951

The Anglo-Iranian Oil Company says it will shut down operations in Iran in 10 days. Nationalization is no good unless it’s made in Britain.

[The British Labor government were nationalizers at home.]

July 1, 1951

Britain tells Iran His Majesty’s government finds it hard to believe that Iranians “will not recognize the unwisdom of their intransigence.” Viewing Attlee’s policy from all sides, you have to credit him with diplomacy’s first unassisted triple negative.

[Quoting a June 30th note from Sir Francis Shepherd to Bagher Kazemi]

July 10, 1951

Iran Premier Mossadegh rejects the world court decision in the oil dispute after saying President Truman’s letter arrived “a fifth too late.” Despite the striking progress of air mail, you still can’t mail a letter today to Iran and have it delivered yesterday to pre-war Persia.

[Mossadegh told Amb. Grady Truman’s July 8th reply came too late but this particular phrase is made up.]

July 12, 1951

Iran agrees to discuss the British oil dispute with Presidential Adviser W. Averell Harriman. There was some talk originally of sending Dean Acheson.

[Acheson later had talks with Premier Mossadegh in DC.]

July 14, 1951

Averell Harriman, off to Iran, bid adieu to President Truman in the White House rose garden. Friends used to wait until after the mission to send the flowers.

July 15, 1951

U.S. Ambassador Grady says the oil dispute in Iran is getting ripe for a break. [Henry F. Grady] After all Iran is a monarchy too, and the British Labor government is willing to release its patent on nationalization for the appropriate royalty.

August 5, 1951

President Truman congratulates Britain and Iran for getting together for a conference on the oil dispute. The White House doesn’t much care who owns the filling station, just so you can get a tankful of gas without carrying a copy of Karl Marx in the glove compartment.

August 24, 1951

Britain says after collapse of the Iran oil talks that she’ll use force to protect the Abadan refinery. She’ll announce later which division will sail from the U.S.

[Implying that America has to do all the dirty work, a la Korea.]

August 25, 1951

Averell Harriman, mediator in the ill-fated Iran-British oil talks says he’s bringing President Truman a rug. Slightly frayed, of course, from being jerked out from under him so often.

September 26, 1951

British leaders consider sending warships to Iran. If they can’t do the Arabian landscape in oils, they’ll try a little steel engraving.

[“Arabian landscape”]

September 28, 1951

The U.S. asks Iran not to oust British oil technicians. It’s against international law to twist the British lion’s tail unless you’re running for congress from New York or Boston.

October 9, 1951

Princess Elizabeth lands in Montreal and Premier Mossadegh of Iran lands in New York. The new world will see the lady who’ll some day wear the British crown and the man who is determined to see that it’ll be pretty well worn by the time she gets it.

October 13, 1951

From his New York hospital bed, Iran’s Premier Mossadegh spurns an oil compromise with Britain. The British lion has become so tame a fellow can now stalk it with sleeping pills and a hot water bottle.

October 24, 1951

Premier Mossadegh of Iran lunches with President Truman. A man who faints at the sight of an Englishman can sometimes be revived by waving a Yankee dollar briskly before the nose.

[Alas, he went home empty-handed.]

November 15, 1951

Anglo-Egyptian relations have been sour ever since King Farouk learned there wasn’t a worthwhile belly dancer in all England.

Premier Mossadegh of Iran delivers a speech in Persian which is then translated into English. Mossadegh had to make two speeches at the same time in Washington because he knew he was in the temple of double-talk.

December 27, 1951

Iran rejects the world bank’s proposal to settle the oil dispute with Britain. Iran prefers its own method of solving the crisis—pouring troubled waters on oil.

April 26, 1952

The United States resumes military aid to Iran. It’s a 50-50 compromise—Premier Mossadegh promises to defend Iran against Russia whenever he can spare the time from fighting England.

[Resumption of aid announced April 25th]

August 31, 1952

Premier Mossadegh of Iran rejects a new Truman-Churchill proposal to settle the oil dispute. Mossadegh has never forgiven the Allies for making fun of his fainting spells.

Every Iranian knows they’re the real thing. Mossadegh plans them for weeks.

December 8, 1952

The U.S. says it won’t interfere with American oil firms that want to move oil from Iran. This makes the British unhappy. And after all Britain has done to help curb American inflation by letting us export so much of it.

March 3, 1953

Mobs in Iran yell “Yankee go home.” Our allies are getting sick and tired of us hanging around overseas when we ought to be home working to support them.

March 4, 1953

Premier Mossadegh warns Americans to keep off the streets of Iran. It’s lucky we only have one major enemy—we could never survive more than one set of Allies.

August 18, 1953

Premier Mossadegh rules Iran after the king flees the country. This is a bad century for kings. Even in England the average man prefers queens—and in America he prefers aces.

[After the first coup attempt]

August 20, 1953

Iran’s army ousts Premier Mossadegh and prepares to bring back the Shah. Confucius say the best Persian welcome awaits he who sends his tanks in advance.

Iran’s ambassador to the United States denounces the royalist forces that overthrew Premier Mossadegh. [Allahyar Saleh] The ambassador is sure he’s on solid ground, he’s just had the rug jerked out from under him.

August 27, 1953

Iran workmen erase the “Yankee Go Home” signs from the walls of Teheran. We’re now loved in Iran, Turkey and Pakistan—to name only three of our wide trio of friends.

August 28, 1953

Ike sends best wishes to the Shah of Iran from Colorado. Ike: “Fishing fine here. Advise you try it for the weekend.—Treasury not open until 9 a.m. Monday.”

[On the contrary, Pres. Eisenhower was not ducking the aid issue. Anything but.]

August 29, 1953

The United States and Russia vie for first honors to rush financial help to Iran. Never fear about this race, folks. Even if it’s a photo finish we’ll get billed for the picture.

[Contradicting his own joke the day earlier, while bizarrely adding the false notion that the Soviets wanted to help the Shah. They didn’t even help Mossadegh.]

September 8, 1953

Iran makes a trade agreement with Russia just a few hours after getting $45,000,000 from President Eisenhower. That’s Allah, brother!

[The trade agreement for “mutual deliveries of goods” was announced by Moscow radio on Sept. 5th, the same day the U.S. announced the $45 million gift.]

Iran According To Ed Sullivan (1951-1954)
Iran According To Ed Sullivan (1951-1954)


Related links:

IRAN SNIPPETS | More Rim Shots From the Mossadegh Era (1951-53)

They Wanted To Use Force In Persia | Ian Colvin, October 22, 1952

Visit of Iranian Premier Gives State Dept. the Jitters | Andrew Tully, Oct. 25, 1951

MOSSADEGH t-shirts — “If I sit silently, I have sinned”

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