Intelligent, well-informed Europeans—especially but not only leftists—have an impressive ability to profoundly misunderstand the United States. And the problem is not ignorance. Howard, who writes for such respectable British organs as the Guardian, the Spectator, and Jane's Intelligence Review, cites all the right sources and correctly characterizes U.S. interests and policies—only to dismiss them as laughably naive or profoundly stupid.
A nontrivial example is the way Howard views the Arab-Israeli dispute. He simply cannot understand why the United States cares about Israel's security. And he regards as axiomatic that Iran's material support to terrorist groups, "if it has ever really assumed such a role at all, is of highly peripheral importance to the Arab-Israeli dispute." Given that Hamas—which both the European Union and the United States list as a terrorist group—proclaims Iran as its principal funder and that the thousands of Katyusha and other rockets fired into Israel by Hezbollah were manufactured in and paid for by Iran, Howard's is quite a remarkable view.
Howard also gets his main argument wrong. He claims that U.S. policy toward Iran is driven by that country's oil resources rather than revolutionary Iran's threat to regional peace and international security. Never mind the minor detail that the United States has for more than a decade maintained economic sanctions that forbid American firms from taking up Tehran's offer to invest there. Nor does Howard understand why government control over oil in countries around the world represents a problem for U.S. interests: The difficulty is from artificially-induced shortages that drive up prices and create panics, not from the revenue governments take in by owning oil resources (the record suggests such governments could actually generate more revenue by collecting taxes from freely-operating international oil companies).
Also troubling is the readiness of people like Howard to dismiss anything the U.S. government supports even if it is something near and dear to their own value systems. Howard writes, "[P]olicymakers in Washington need to recognize that another government's domestic track record has no necessary bearing on the outside world, and that its behavior within its own borders is ultimately a matter on which only the nationals of that country are in a position to pass judgement." Never mind a raft of international human rights treaties; Howard is ready to proclaim a right to commit genocide if it allows him to criticize the U.S. government.
If only Iran Oil were an isolated example of determined ignorance and spiteful anti-Americanism. Unfortunately, it is representative of many such works, though better written and organized than most—characteristics which make its deep flaws all the more obvious.