Rather than cheering for a potentially catastrophic escalation, there are other options for the United States to help the Ukrainian people.

By Phyllis Bennis, The Progressive Magazine

As Russia’s war on Ukraine drags on, calls have grown for the United States to impose a “no-fly zone” over the country.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy made an impassioned plea for this when he addressed Congress recently. Though President Joe Biden has thus far secured a bipartisan consensus against imposing a no-fly zone, a number of U.S. politicians on the right, including Sen. Rick Scott of Florida, have picked up the cause.

no-fly zone over ukraine and russia graphic

People in Ukraine, including children, are being injured or killed in Ukraine by Russian airstrikes every day. So a no-fly zone to literally clear the air of bombers sounds like a good idea, right?

Unfortunately, it’s not that simple. As Biden and others have warned, it could actually make the war much bloodier than it already is.

Let’s first be clear about what a no-fly zone is. It’s not some sanitized, Star Wars-style force field that keeps enemy planes out of the sky. It means bombing anti-aircraft defenses and shooting down planes — acts of war.

Such actions can have serious unintended consequences.

A little more than a decade ago, protests erupted against Moammar Gadhafi’s government in Libya. When Gadhafi cracked down and the conflict turned into a civil war, some figures in Washington, D.C., lobbied then-President Barack Obama to launch a no-fly zone over the country. The goal, they said, was to protect civilians.

Opposition came from the Pentagon, of all places. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates wisely cautioned: “A no-fly zone begins with an attack on Libya to destroy the air defenses.” It would require, he said, “a big operation in a big country.”

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