Michael Brendan Dougherty argues at National Review Online that Westerners of all types seem incapable of forming reasoned views about Russia and its recent actions.

America’s political actors seem to shift their views easily. When Mitt Romney said in 2012 that Russia was America’s “top geopolitical foe,” President Obama snapped back, “The 1980s are now calling to ask for their foreign policy back.” Liberals cheered.

But two years later, Russia passed a law proscribing homosexual propaganda aimed at youth. The state arrested the punk-rock band Pussy Riot for protesting on the altar of a cathedral. Suddenly, for American liberals, Russia began to become a foreign proxy for their own domestic culture wars. Obama sent gay athletes in the American delegation to the Sochi Olympics. Pussy Riot was feted as heroic.

What troubles us? It can’t be that we are upset at Russian violations of human rights at home; that doesn’t trouble anyone who approves America’s special relationship with Saudi Arabia. It can’t be that we really fear it as a long-term rival for power. Russia shrinks, China grows. So what is it?

In elite policymaking circles, in the well-lit rooms lined with free bottles of spring water, where people grandly refer to themselves as “Atlanticists,” Russia isn’t spoken about as if it were a nation with its own history, impelling national interests, and problems. Instead, both privately and publicly, it is spoken of like a ghost written into the Western storyline. It haunts the West. It is the motor behind every unwelcome political development.