Last week, as the Obama administration scurried to remove the large quantities of egg that Vladimir Putin had deposited on its collective countenance, Michigan Congressman Mike Rogers commented that Putin was playing chess while Obama was “playing marbles.”

I think that was unfair. Marbles are inherently attractive, and their deployment is an innocent pastime that has beguiled the innocent hours of many a boyhood. What’s more, playing marbles takes skill.  What is happening in Ukraine is anything but innocent, and the astonishing incompetence on display in Barack Obama’s hesitant but sullen maunderings has been the opposite of skillful.

Vladimir Putin is playing a dangerous game of chess, all right, but the only thing Obama can be said to be playing is the fool.

This morning, it was revealed that Crimea has just voted to “join” Russia. “Crimea’s parliament voted to join Russia,” Reuters reported, “and its Moscow-backed government set a referendum within 10 days on the the decision.” What do you suppose that means?

The Autonomous Republic of Crimea, to give the history-marinated peninsula (Sevastopol, Yalta) its formal name, has been in but only partly of the Ukraine since the charge of the Light Brigade in 1854. Nearly 60% of the population of the peninsula are ethnic Russians; less than 25% are ethnic Ukrainians.

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All those Russian troops and tanks we’ve been seeing on the nightly news were not imported into  Crimea: they were already there in major military installations that Russia has maintained there before, during, and after the Soviet Union.

Everyone who sees the hand of Comrade Putin behind this prelude to the Russian Anschluss of Crimea is correct.  But here’s a question: what do you propose to do about it? Putin is in Moscow, arranging for his next bare-chested photo op. The Parliament of the Autonomous Republic of Crimea votes to “join” Russia, with a referendum scheduled March 16. Arseny Yatseniuk, the Ukrainian prime minister, says any such decree to make Crimea part of Russia would be “illegitimate.”  “Crimea is, was, and will be an integral part of Ukraine,” he declared. But what if the vote goes the other way? What then?

Nxf6+ i.e., say goodbye to that Knight, and, by the way, Check.

Not all things are possible at all times.  There was a long moment when nimble U.S. diplomacy, combined with the aura of U.S. power and prestige, might have significantly influenced what happened in Ukraine. What Glenn Reynolds has aptly dubbed Obama’s “Smart Diplomacy™” has broken the kneecaps of American diplomatic prowess.  If you doubt that, consider the current of comedy contained in this headline: “Secretary Kerry to meet with Russian counterpart to discuss Ukraine crisis.” Admit it: you tittered slightly. After all, what would a “Russian counterpart” of John Kerry look like? Something like Boris Badenov from the Rocky and His Friends. I doubt that Vladimir Putin maintains a court jester, so it is extremely unlikely that there is a “Russian counterpart” of John “reporting for duty” Kerry.

And what about American power and prestige?  “U.S. to increase military spending by more than 12% next year.” Oh, wait, not: that was China. In the U.S., the Hamas-loving secretary of Defense, Chuck Hagel, has just unveiled a plan to cut the military to pre-World War II levels.

We’ve come a long way from those pseudo-Greek columns in Colorado, when the half-black, first-term senator with a background in anti-American radicalism (Jeremiah Wright, Bill Ayers) and a patina of affirmative-action, Ivy-League glibness gave guilt-ridden leftists from Chris Matthews on down a pleasurable little tingle. The epicene smugness, the brutal contempt of anything that seemed like manliness or even conventional decency (just try using the word “decency” in polite, i.e., politically correct company: go ahead, try it) — the spell Obama cast swept all before him, the little squeaks of critics all-but-drowned-out by the narcissist cataract of “We are the ones we’ve been waiting for.”

The oddest thing about the whole Obama entertainment is the discrepancy between serious-sounding rhetoric, on the one hand, and embarrassing incompetence on the other.  Search YouTube for a clip of Obama speechifying. It doesn’t much matter what speech: so long as he has his teleprompter and a text he actually sounds like a reasonable adult (I am not talking about the substance of his speeches, only the tone, the oratorical payload).  But step back and contemplate Obama’s performance these last 5 years: just think about what he has done to this country: to its wealth, its prestige on the world stage, its sense of security, domestic as well as international.  Amazing, isn’t it?

Like many of my colleagues, I thought Obama’s appalling first term — the economy, Benghazi, Obamacare, Fast and Furious, Trayvon Martin, “Green” non-energy, etc., etc. — I thought for sure that the electorate, like Hamlet’s Denmark, would be contracted in one brow of woe and vote the mountebank out. I was wrong.  But all around us a morality play is working itself, and it is looking more and more like something from Kipling’s “Gods of the Copybook Headings.”

They promised perpetual peace.
They swore, if we gave them our weapons, that the wars of the tribes would cease.
But when we disarmed They sold us and delivered us bound to our foe,
And the Gods of the Copybook Headings said: “Stick to the Devil you know.

John Bolton is right: “Our Biggest National Security Problem is Barack Obama.” What’s happening in Crimea is only one piece of a much larger puzzle. Obama doesn’t even know there’s a game being played.  He certainly has no idea of the stakes involved. Meanwhile, Putin is just about to make another move: Qh5# — that’s  checkmate, mate.