The recent debt ceiling drama in the American Congress and the subsequent credit downgrading and market distress have made it acceptable, if not obligatory, to talk of a once taboo topic.
This is the danger that the US dollar may lose its standing as the global reserve currency, and that the Pentagon will lose its access to an almost unlimited chequebook.
Or, as the Chinese state-media outlet Xinhua put it on 6th August 2011, in words that foreshadow American, and possibly Australian, hardship: "The U.S. government has to come to terms with the painful fact that the good old days when it could just borrow its way out of messes of its own making are finally gone."
Whatever path is taken, there is the probability, if not certainty, that we are approaching the end of the Anglo-American order that has defined the past two centuries of global history and the full length of Australia's modern history.
With the imperative of finding savings to cover a present annual deficit approaching $1.5 trillion, the global role of the US would be seriously constrained, if not crippled.
Australians have no serious end of empire experience since being settled by Europeans. Despite the 2nd World War, Australia managed a relatively smooth transition from being a beneficiary of British imperial reach to being a beneficiary of American imperial reach.
Today, dependence on the United States defines the international awareness and certainties of most Australian political leaders. Of course, most recognise blandly a dependence on China for Australian economic prosperity but none are prepared to address the implications of China emerging politically pre-eminent from an American end of empire moment.
Indeed, our most recent Defence White Paper anticipated using the American alliance to confront China militarily more than a decade into the future.
The boffins in Defence saw no need to address the financial and budgetary disarray of the United States. Even further from their awareness was the improbability of America being able to maintain the Pentagon's level of expenditure even several years into the future.
Of course, recognition of such a danger is an unacceptable form of heresy in the company of innumerate military enthusiasts.
Sadly, the certainties of the American military industry complex, much as warned by retiring President Eisenhower almost half as century ago, have contributed substantially to American budgetary problems and negatively to America's international standing.
A succession of small wars has achieved little, except to enrich industry insiders and to demonstrate an American capacity to bring devastation to the lives of ordinary people.
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