THE BLOG

America's Identity Crisis

06/08/2014 16:48 BST | Updated 06/10/2014 10:59 BST

As the global landscape rapidly changes Americans are re-examining their role in the world.

The aftermath of US involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan, the ever challenging events in the Middle East, the continued unravelling of the once hopeful Arab Spring, the mass migration of peoples to escape the dangers posed by this violence and the consequences of failed states around the globe are reshaping the world as we have known it.

These are not just far away problems anymore.

These same kinds of global pressures are producing a steady flow of illegal immigrants or "refugees" ( depending on your point view) along our own southern border with Mexico.

As far back as I can remember, America and her people saw themselves as "the champion of democracy" and the refuge for those who sought safety from persecution.

In fact, during its infancy America was the home sought by English "Puritans" who were seeking freedom from religious persecution.

In the 1600s these Puritans and "Pilgrims" came to Jamestown, Virginia and Plymouth Rock, Massachusetts to try to live freely and practice their faith in peace.

Thanksgiving Day Turkey Dinner notwithstanding, this unwanted invasion from England was not very welcomed by the Native American people who correctly perceived these newcomers as a threat to their way of life and their existence.

This group of "unwelcome immigrants" was the first of many waves to come to the shores of America either through Ellis Island or other places of entry.

Interestingly, Martin Van Buren, the eighth president of the United States was the first president born a US citizen in 1782.

All seven of his predecessors were in fact born British subjects.

Immigrants still arrive daily on foot - sometimes wadding across rivers - by car, truck, bus, boat, train and plane.

In the past, many were greeted by Lady Liberty as they sailed into New York Harbor.

The inscription written by New York City born Emma Lazarus which adorns the base of the Statute of Liberty reflected the American sentiment at the time:

"Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, the wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door!"

Today that quote might be "Give me your best educated engineers, your wizards of high tech and your engaging entrepreneurs - your best and your brightest, give me your Bill Gates, your Steve Jobs and your 'Googley' candidates yearning to be free to create, invent and invest."

Americans who have weathered a tough economic storm no longer seem willing to welcome those yearning for a better life.

They are in survival mode viewing each new immigrant as yet more competition in an ever-shrinking job market.

It is surely this economic pressure which has changed the attitude of those Americans who once swung open the doors of their hearts and homes to welcome and embrace newcomers to this land of opportunity.

Nowhere is this change more stark than in the argument about how to deal with the throngs of children crossing the US border on their own to seek a better life.

Depending on your point of view, these young children are either law breakers who must be sent home immediately or needful neighbors to be given refuge and protection from the dangers they are fleeing in their own countries south of our border.

The economic and political pressure caused by this latest wave of immigrants is forcing Americans to reconsider whether they still want their country to be a safe haven and refuge for those fleeing danger or economic hardship.

The idea of America as "the champion of democracy" worldwide is also being challenged.

After two back to back wars in Iraq and Afghanistan - costing billions in dollars and a far greater cost in the treasure of lives, Americans are asking "WHY"?

Before we defend democracy again on foreign soil, Americans are not only assessing the cost they are also assessing the gains.

Despite the promises of the politicians who sent a generation of America's youth into harms way, these wars did not pay for themselves, they did not create stable democracies that were friendly to US interests and did not turn out according to their plans.

So as Americans continue to watch Iraq unravel and question whether the same thing will happen once we exit Afghanistan, it is no wonder that they ask - was it worth the sacrifice?

It is not surprising that politicians tread lightly at the suggestion that Americans stand up to Russian aggression in Ukraine and Crimea or to ISIS as they brutally continue their takeover of Syria and Iraq and possibly most of the Middle East and Africa.

Even as Congress and President Obama approve more funds to support and protect America's closest ally in the Middle East - Israel - from Hamas rockets, some question whether Israel's latest actions in Gaza are in the long term best interest of both the US and Israel.

Americans are also questioning whether the long standing US Policy of a two state solution can actually ever work - and if it does, will it turn out as we hoped and planned.

Many have accused President Obama of leading from behind - perhaps he is simply trying not to get ahead of where the American people are as they begin to re-assess their role on the world stage.

We will only truly know the answer with the benefit of hindsight and the passage of time.

America and its people may be battle weary of shouldering the cost and the burden of "keeping" or as some may say "disrupting" world peace - it is after all a weighty responsibility to be so engaged.

Indeed, Americans and the idea of "America" are having an identity crisis; justifiably so, as the world beyond our boarders is experiencing serious growing pains as well.

No one country or one people should be expected to shoulder all the burdens on their own - and yet there is no one waiting in the wings to fill this role.

Although America's NATO allies assist when duty calls, none of them individually or as a group seems eager to assume America's traditional role and take on all her burdens.

I don't think America and its people are ready to cede its "greatest" appellation just yet, however I do believe they are struggling to find a balance and a new way to engage in this rapidly changing global landscape.