Lost in this fray, however, are some legitimate policy issues. The intense coziness of Tillerson’s Russia ties combined with the hacking scandal make not just for uncomfortable political optics but such muddled conflicts of interest that it could severely compromise the capacity of the United States to steer the independent and maverick foreign policy that Trump claims to desire. That is clear.
What should also be clear is that breaking from the past 15 plus years of U.S. foreign policy orthodoxies on everything from Russia to China to the Middle East should not be viewed as some calamity but as an opportunity. It is hard to characterize recent U.S. foreign policy as anything other than a series of missteps following one unmitigated disaster: the invasion of Iraq and its aftermath. The U.S. legacy in Iraq has arguably done more damage to U.S. security than any decision in U.S history, including Vietnam. The regional instability and blowback in the form of ISIS and increased political risk are unresolved. U.S. support for the overthrow of Qaddafi in Libya somehow repeated the Iraq mistake of unending a brutal regime with no plan in place for the aftermath, thereby creating another vacuum filled by many who are intending great harm to the West and the rest of the Middle East. And while the United States is low on the totem pole of responsibility for the atrocities of the Syrian Civil War, nor have we found a clear policy to manage that.
As for Russia, yes Putin is a brilliant and troubling thug with nuclear weapons and regional ambitions. But that does not mean we need to ratchet up the conflict with Russia. The German government has much the same view of Putin, but also recognizes the need for a constructive working relationship.