Unless Washington takes steps to avoid fiscal disaster, the U.S. will lose its place as a world leader for freedom, liberty and basic human rights.

China’s official news agency, in light of the messiness surrounding the U.S. government partial shutdown and debt ceiling fight, said recently that now may be a good time for other nations to begin considering building a de-Americanized world.

Certainly this is a harsh and troubling suggestion, yet it isn’t difficult to see why the recent shenanigans in Washington have raised international concerns. Even the compromise that re-opened the government and avoided default is a short-term solution, and it raises the possibility that renewed squabbling, and another possible shutdown, could be on the horizon in just few short months.

Given the role the United States has played for more than a century as a beacon for freedom, liberty and basic human rights — ranging from the freedom to pursue financial dreams to the freedoms to speak and worship as one pleases — the idea of a world in which America is diminished is frightening. That makes the need for real budgetary reform and compromise in Washington a moral necessity.

Granted, the political and economic consequences from the recent showdown may have reduced the appetite politicians have to go through such a pointless and costly exercise a second time in a single year, it is no guarantee. The parties involved surely must have perceived that the shutdown would not bring about its desired ends. Meanwhile, there never has been a more important time to think beyond the needs of political parties.

Americans can hardly be blamed for their lack of confidence in their government’s ability to function properly going forward. No bipartisan consensus exists toward finding a long-term solution to the nation’s budget problems. China and the rest of the world are watching as Washington buries its collective head in the sand when confronted with the very real possibility of American insolvency in the coming decades.

Lost in the quixotic attempt to defund Obamacare was the reality that existing entitlement programs are mathematically unsustainable. Unless changes are made, the demographics driving Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid will drive the nation into bankruptcy. The amount of money necessary to pay future obligations for those programs as presently constituted simply doesn’t exist. Both parties acknowledge this, yet they refuse to do anything about it, other than blame the people on the other side of the aisle in order to score cheap political points.

This is maddening, especially since the disaster is entirely avoidable. And yet the nation’s leaders are doing nothing to address it, despite knowing that solutions are much simpler to enact now than they will be in the future.

This is more than just an academic debate; it’s a pressing national security issue and a moral imperative. Failure of leadership in the face of such a challenge weakens the United States both at home and abroad. America’s status as a world leader has taken a number of blows recently, and other nations have taken note of its inability to find solutions despite its enormous resources. Unless the United States addresses the hard fiscal realities it faces, the world may de-Americanize regardless of whether other nations desire it.