NOAM CHOMSKY is the father of modern linguistics, author of the landmark sentence "colourless green ideas sleep furiously". (The sentence is renowned for reasons I never quite understood when I attempted to write student essays on theoretical linguistics; think "deep structures" and "transformational grammar", and all should be clear.) Above all, he is now famous as a cutting-edge political thinker, daring to say the things nobody else dares. A New Generation Draws the Line is a scathing analysis of Western policy in East Timor and the former Yugoslavia. It is brilliantly argued and highly provocative - in short, just what the doctor ordered.
Up to a point. Many of Chomsky's points are reasonable. He contrasts the readiness to bomb the Serbs over Kosovo with the failure to put pressure on Turkey in connection with its brutal treatment of the Kurds. He contrasts, too, the dismal acquiescence in the original Indonesian invasion of East Timor with the proclaimed readiness to help the Timorese with a UN presence in 1999.
So far, so justified. There is, however, a problem. Chomsky's searing attack on complacency is itself full of suffocating complacency about his own rightness. For Chomsky, it is not enough to criticise the US for "ignoring" Turkey's bad behaviour; the US has "deliberately escalated atrocities" in Turkey and elsewhere.
On Kosovo, it is a similar story. He accurately identifies problems associated with the Nato bombing, which triggered the worst ethnic cleansing of all. Since the war, Serbs who live in Kosovo have gone in fear for their lives. These are good reasons to criticise Nato. But again, this is not enough. One critic gets a verbal lashing for saying that "no one questions the underlying good intentions" of the 1999 bombing. "Oh yes, we do!" is Chomsky's implied retort. Misguided isn't enough; the policy must be plain evil.
He mocks Aryeh Neier, a former head of Human Rights Watch, for suggesting that the West's inadequate response to the crimes in Bosnia helped to motivate …