As tensions in the Crimean Peninsula continue intensifying, it’s important to note who is watching. It’s not just the international press and the diplomatic corps, but also America’s biggest adversaries.

Take China, for example, which made headlines over the weekend by wading into the conflict by declining to criticize Russia’s decisions to send troops into Ukrainian territory. Heritage’s China expert, Dean Cheng, said that “Reports that China has decided to call in a $3 billion loan to Ukraine, at this time, suggests that China’s position is anything but neutral.”

As long as President Obama pursues a foreign policy based on fantasy, as The Washington Post eloquently put it, expect more of our country’s foes to become increasingly emboldened by America’s uncertainty, hesitation, and reluctance to assert leadership during this international standoff.

In fact, if ever there were a reminder why American leadership is needed, the Russian–Ukrainian conflict is just such proof. Heritage experts have described a world without American leadership:

The world will become a more dangerous place—for Americans and for freedom. If left unchecked, the growing dangers will only get worse and may reach the point where America’s very existence is at stake. Transnational terrorism, rampant anti-Americanism, unaccountable international institutions, nuclear proliferation, and regional conflict all represent real threats to peace and prosperity.

This is what’s at stake and why the precedent that it will set will have long-lasting and far-reaching implications. Steve Bucci, director of Heritage’s Douglas and Sarah Allison Center for Foreign and National Security Policy, says that “if Putin gets away with at least taking eastern Ukraine, all the bad guys will be emboldened. It will be an international relations precedent to which they will turn.”

And a weakened United States from a failed Russian–Ukrainian resolution will do little to slow China’s aggression along its periphery, as it asserts claims over various disputed islands and shoals.

Compounding this threat is that while China’s navy is growing, the U.S. military and defense budget is shrinking.  As Heritage has been advocating for some time, there are a number of clear and practical steps that the United States could take immediately to assert American leadership while sending a clear message to Moscow that a rethinking of the Russian–U.S. relationship is needed in the wake of this blatant hostility in the Crimean Peninsula.

A failure to do this will most certainly empower our adversaries, creating the possibility that we will see this type of hostility in other parts of the world in the not-too-distant future. The Obama Doctrine of outsourcing America’s role in the world and allowing policy to be defined by international agencies is being torn to shreds. For the sake of peace in the United States and around the world, the White House’s foreign policy playbook needs to be quickly and immediately replaced.