“The newspapers! Sir, they are the most villainous, licentious, abominable, infernal — Not that I ever read them! No, I make it a rule never to look into a newspaper.”

Richard Brinsley Sheridan, “The Critic”

The New York Times is feeling some heat over its recent publishing of an op-ed by Russian President Vladimir Putin. Some interpret Putin’s piece as a putdown of President Barack Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry. If that indeed was what Putin intended, then the put-down, in my view, was certainly justified. You will look a long way in the pages of U.S. diplomatic history for a greater screw-up than the one Obama and Kerry presided over in the weeks following Syria’s use of chemical weapons.

For the record, I do not fault the Times for publishing the Putin op-ed. A hundred years or so ago, when I was editor of the old Charleston Evening Post, I occasionally published releases from the Soviet Embassy. I assumed then, as I assume the Times does now, that readers of a newspaper’s editorial and op-ed pages are well enough informed to “consider the source” when perusing pieces published there.

The fumbling of foreign policy by the Obama administration would be funny, if it were not at the same time tragic and indicative of how incompetent those in charge of U.S. foreign relations really are. The feckless nature of U.S. leadership clearly has weakened our power to influence world events. This is reality and it is dangerous, especially so in a period of waning American military and economic strength. The bullies are busily taking over the playground, and I for one am glad that mainstream media are awakening to this dismal happening.

It says something when our president and our secretary of state are, with impunity, called liars by Putin. It says something when The Washington Post (!) calls them liars too, and awards them four “Pinocchios” each for misstating facts to the American people, facts unerasable from the public record if not from the public mind.

There is plenty of blame to go around for the unholy mess both the Obama and Bush administrations have made of the post-9/11 world. Iraq is rapidly descending into renewed civil war. Afghanistan almost certainly will follow when our hopeless mission there ends. Scarcely a day goes by without a bomb going off in a market place, at a mosque, or at a funeral for earlier victims of Islamic terrorists. We should all be aware that the same can happen here. Think of the dead and the 16 (!) amputees from the Boston Marathon bombing.

In the futile wars in Iraq and Afghanistan we have squandered more than one thousand, five hundred billion dollars and, worse, thousands of young American lives and arms and legs.

Think of this when you next see a solicitation for wounded warriors on television, and the unutterably sad stories of our mutilated troops and their families. Ask yourself what this says about a government that sent them to fight cesspool wars and now fails to provide them the adequate care they are entitled to.

Casey Stengel, shortly after taking over as manager of the New York Mets, famously asked, “Can’t nobody here play this game?” (As an aside, I once heard Casey say as much at a bar in St. Petersburg, Fla. The Mets then did their spring training in St. Pete and I was on a Navy assignment there.)

I can well imagine a visitor from outer space saying or at least thinking after reading newspaper stories about goings on at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave., Foggy Bottom and Capitol Hill: “Can’t nobody here play this government game?”

Consider: the unseemly attempt to cover up the “phony scandal” of Benghazi; the near hilarious failed attempt to persuade Congress and the American people that a targeted and “unbelievably small” attack on Syria would end the threat of chemical weapons and save the world from more unspeakable horrors; the contention that Putin’s “lifeline” proposal that the U.N. take charge of Syria’s chemical weapons was really Obama’s idea all along, and that it was he who brilliantly maneuvered Putin, and not Putin who maneuvered him, into supporting an action that almost no one with his head screwed on right thinks will succeed; and so forth and so forth.

With apologies to Charley Brown, Lucy, and Linus — Good grief! The newspaper funny pages are the new reality!

R.L. Schreadley is a former Post and Courier executive editor.