There seem to be a spate of papers lately that purport to analyze the rhetoric of empire prevailing in America today (see for example The Ideology of American Empire from the Journal of Religion and Popular Culture and A Post-National Theology of Empire in the Journal for Cultural and Religious Theory). The central point is that every U.S. president in the post-cold war era has explicitly endorsed the goal of creating U.S. domination (I hesitate to use the word "hegemony") in world affairs. The sort of rhetoric has seeped through virtually the entire mainstream media, to the point that most public discourse implicitly assumes the need for America to mould the nations of the world in its own image.
The parallels between today's advocates of an American "empire" and those of the past are downright eerie. One which keeps puzzling me is the way advocates of U.S. military action use the word "burden" to describe America's role. Haven't they read Kipling?
I wonder, though, about the extent to which today's far left has contributed to this. People like Noam Chomsky have been criticizing the United States for decades for its failures to get involved in stopping genocides oversees. From East Timor to Turkey to allied governments in Latin America, socialist academics like Chomsky and Zinn criticized the U.S. for doing nothing while friendly governments we dealt with massacred their citizens. And after the Rwanda genocide, we were bombarded by critical voices - mostly on the left - faulting the United States for doing nothing to save the hundreds of thousands of victims.
Lurking behind this criticism is the same implicit assumption of empire: that the United States has a responsibility to prevent masssacres and genocides carried out beyond its borders, by force if necessary. Once you accept that, it takes only a small step to be neoconservative. Chomsky might not like being called that, but there is little difference between his ideology and Wolfowitz's.