Settle down there, slugger.

I can understand Romney feeling extra-hawkish at a moment when world events have vindicated his famous claim 10 years ago that Russia is our top geopolitical foe. But to listen to him here, you would think the U.S. had been timid in trying to force Russia to back off Ukraine.

Did he forget that we dropped an economic nuclear bomb on them, causing such immense devastation that Putin is now threatening foreign companies with nationalization if they try to flee the country?

We’re supplying Ukraine with anti-aircraft and anti-tank weapons, we’re providing their troops with intelligence on Russian positions, we’ve doomed Russia to autarky and recession by deplatforming it from the western financial system. Putin has taken all of that in stride so far, implying that he does fear us — a lot — since he hasn’t meaningfully retaliated for any of it.

But at some point, as hobbled as his army is, he’ll have to respond if NATO keeps escalating. Persistent weakness as the U.S. and Europe inch further towards the battlefield will become provocative. And that’s when the dark imponderables become ponderable.

I confess to not understanding why the White House has drawn a line at the MiGs while not drawing a line at Stingers or Javelins but I’m willing to give them the benefit of the doubt in calculating what forms of escalation are out of bounds considering how they’ve calculated correctly so far.

On the other hand, I do understand why Republicans want to hammer Biden on this at a moment when support for punitive measures against Russia is polling at 80 percent:

For the moment, the MiGs are out — but other advanced weapons are in. Escalation in war has its own logic, inscrutable to all but the participants:

Romney’s argument is simple yet effective, hitting the audience in the gut: “People are dying.” Ukraine wants planes, we have them, why not hand them over? People are dying.

How can you watch the aftermath of yesterday’s bombing of a maternity hospital in Mariupol and not instinctively agree with him?

Mariupol, the southeastern city under siege, is now so desperate for relief that residents are reportedly fighting each other for the remaining food. People really are dying.

But “people are dying” will also be the justification for a no-fly zone when and if that option goes mainstream in Washington. If Ukraine can’t turn the tide with some new jets, and it almost certainly can’t, will Romney sit by and condemn the Ukrainians to do their best with the weapons they have? Or will he escalate further?

“Zelensky has every reason to keep calling for a no-fly zone,” Rich Lowry wrote earlier today, “and we have every reason to keep rejecting the idea.” NRO’s editorial:

Moreover, once a nation declares a no-fly zone in a conflict, it owns the war. Assuming we succeeded in establishing a no-fly zone, the Russians would turn to their vast superiority in ground-based artillery and rockets to continue their devastating attacks on Ukrainian civilians. The calls to widen our intervention would begin immediately, and the pressure to act would be intense.

It would go too far to say that Putin is looking for an open fight with NATO. Putin knows that the majority of his combat power is committed to Ukraine. He knows that he would lose a conventional war with NATO. But he would not hesitate to fight NATO in Ukraine, especially if he could pin the blame for any escalation on the United States. Russian military doctrine welcomes escalation — even nuclear escalation — in a bid to bully an opponent into submission. We don’t have to guess here: Putin warned the West on Saturday that Russia would view any nation declaring a no-fly zone “as participants of the military conflict.”

We should not give Vladimir Putin the obvious opportunity to “escalate to deescalate.”

Boris Johnson called it “agonizing, absolutely agonizing” to have to tell Zelensky during “frank” conversations that a no-fly zone is off the table. A letter signed by nearly 80 experts and pundits urging Biden to avoid a no-fly zone put it succinctly: “There must be a clear ceiling for escalation.” The White House appears to believe that that ceiling sits below supplying Ukraine with air power of any kind. Romney is gambling that it can go higher. How much higher?

I’ll leave you with the ominous Russian warning below about the threat to civilian aircraft posed by arming Ukraine with modern weapons systems. Why ominous? Because Russia itself has firsthand experience with that. Sounds like they’re laying the groundwork here to blame the Ukrainians the next time a passenger jet mysteriously explodes over Ukraine.

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