So far it has been a lousy year for George W. Bush, and it just got worse with the announcement by the Iranians that they have taken a major step toward developing their nuclear capabilities. How wonderful for the rest of the world, which now must contemplate the possibility of atomic holocaust from a paranoid nation of terrorists.

Prospects for things getting better for the White House weren’t very good in the first place, what with civil war in Iraq looking more and more a reality, Congress unable to take any kind of harmonious action to calm the masses over immigration, and a new story every day about leaks out of the Oval Office and surrounding environs.

In fact, unless there is improvement on all of the above fronts, which seems unlikely, the next big jolt for Bush could be a real screamer — the election of a Democratic Congress in November that will inflict him with a two-year migraine until he can get the (whatever) out of Dodge.

With polls this week showing his overall approval rating a disastrous 38 percent and 60 percent of the people having lost faith in his ability to handle most of the major issues, the president has begun to look like the person Murphy had in mind when he propounded his law that whatever can go wrong will go wrong.

Here’s a possible solution from someone with nearly five decades of observation in these matters. Bush should admit some of his more egregious mistakes (the game plan for Iraq was based on bad assumptions, for instance); step up his legislative demands and congressional leadership; clean out some of his more contentious Cabinet members, and throw himself on the mercy of the people, who over the history of this country have shown themselves to be very forgiving. Unfortunately, that’s probably not going to happen either, leaving us to ponder how he and we can survive the nearly three years remaining until he returns to Crawford, Texas, permanently.

It would be foolish to underestimate the impact of this dilemma, particularly on the nation’s ability to maintain a global leadership role. In truth, Bush does have most of his second term still to serve, and we should all keep that in mind. By the time Lyndon Johnson exited the White House, he was among the most vilified of American presidents, leaving the country’s position in world affairs seriously damaged for more than a decade until Ronald Reagan set the tone for the breakup of the Soviet Union and the end of the Cold War.

The situation in Iran is frightening, and without strong leadership from the United States, who knows what might occur. Certainly, the United Nations is ineffective, having watched helplessly while Iran continues to thumb its nose at edicts.

There is absolutely no reason to believe the Iranian leaders’ contention that their nuclear program is for peaceful purposes. One would have to be utterly self-delusional, not to mention self-destructive, to swallow that line from a nation that has been a major supporter of worldwide terrorism since the Carter administration. In fact, if Jimmy Carter had taken a strong hand against these religious fanatics when they seized our embassy, perhaps we wouldn’t be in this position. But we are, and with a president who is preoccupied with Iraq and besieged constantly by both his political enemies and, now, many of his allies, how can we meet this threat?

The next three years are crucial. News reports that the Pentagon has contemplated the use of military force against Iran brought more howls of derision and protest from Democrats, forcing Bush to disavow any such intention. Well, of course the Pentagon has mapped out such action, as it does for most contingencies. Military planners would not only be irresponsible but clearly derelict not to do so, particularly in this case when a suitcase atom bomb could be only a few steps away. The story was clearly a plant to warn off Iran.

It would seem obvious that the president’s best hope of meeting these challenges is to leave the domestic issues in the hands of a new competent congressional team and spending his personal time on solving Iraq and convincing the Iranians that their course can lead only to disaster. Our so-called allies should help.

Meanwhile, little good can come from the constant repetition of a litany of the false assumptions for our invasion of Iraq. How many times can it be noted there were no weapons of mass destruction outside Saddam Hussein himself and that may or may not have been good enough reason?

(Dan K. Thomasson is former editor of the Scripps Howard News Service.)