In reacting to the assassination of Benazir Bhutto in Pakistan, only one of the presidential candidates, Bill Richardson, said something totally, irrevocably, scarily stupid, although a couple of others managed to make ninnies of themselves.

Richardson, the New Mexico governor seeking the Democratic nomination for president, demonstrated that his current job is as big as he should try to handle when he called on Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf to vacate his office, a surefire way to unleash further chaos in the country.

The possible consequence? Nothing less than helping Islamic radicals achieve power while putting the rest of the world in increased danger from the country's nuclear weaponry. That's the really, really big issue for the United States in Pakistan — the threat of a couple or more of its 50 nuclear weapons landing in the hands of terrorists who just might smuggle them to our shores, blowing up a city or two or three.

There's more. If Pakistan becomes an al-Qaida-Taliban haven, that's the sure-enough future for Afghanistan, as well, military analysts predict.

A nuclear war with India? That might happen, too.

As Richardson himself seems to concede, it's Islamic radicals — members of al-Qaida itself — who were almost certainly behind the Bhutto murder. They are the ones with the most to gain from it, certainly not Musharraf, who has himself had to dodge assassination attempts and is likely out of office if he cannot contain the terrorism and all that issues from it — the riots, the violence, the rampant disorder.

Musharraf slips and slides, as almost anyone surely would in the terrorist-ridden environment discussed so blithely by cozily safe U.S. critics, but he is a mostly reliable ally, and a leader who has brought both economic and social progress to a land where 46 percent of the people think Osama bin Laden is an OK guy.

The main thing is that if we lose him, we could lose a lot more, which is where Richardson comes in. Concerning his step-aside idea for Musharraf, we ought to listen to a couple of others seeking the Democratic presidential nominations, such as Delaware Sen. Joe Biden, chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee. A spokesman of his has flatly said the Richardson proposal is "wildly irresponsible" because Musharraf's absence "would leave a huge power vacuum at a time of crisis."

Even former Sen. John Edwards, whose own reaction to the Bhutto murder is not wholly reassuring, once said that if the Musharraf regime should collapse in a land where radical Islam has great power, "There is absolutely no way to know what kind of government would take its place."

U.S. military officers interviewed by newspapers meanwhile have forecast more suicide bombings to come, and say it will be imperative to get behind Musharraf in the fight against the Taliban and al-Qaida if we're to keep nukes out of itchy hands. The United States has plans to work with the Pakistani army to protect those weapons if necessary, but that army, observers have written, includes jihadists who might well prove a more-than-minor obstacle if Islamic radicals gain the upper hand politically.

Other candidates on the subject? They've all called for Pakistani democracy, and Edwards, by his own report, went further: He gave Musharraf a phone call and apparently a mini-lecture on the need to continue the march toward democratic norms. Some commentators have cheered what others of us might see as a vote-getting gimmick that usurped a prerogative that is rightly President Bush's and that could conceivably create confusion in a nation that has quite enough at the moment, thank you.

On the Republican side, Mike Huckabee has seemed utterly flummoxed, mostly, in my view, in his warning that the United States should be on the lookout for Pakistanis coming into America. Why, exactly, is this man running for president?

But at least Huckabee's suggestion wouldn't run the risk of helping to get hundreds of thousands of us killed if acted on, and so let's focus on Richardson, who is himself running not so much for president as to be Hillary Clinton's vice presidential running mate.

He's always saying nice things about her, and there is this, too: He served as secretary of energy and U.S. ambassador to the United Nations in her husband's administration. That last post might seem to qualify him as a foreign relations expert, but his words reveal otherwise and make you think he should not be in line as a Hillary Clinton successor if there ever is such a thing.

Jay Ambrose, formerly Washington director of editorial policy for Scripps Howard newspapers and the editor of dailies in El Paso, Texas, and Denver, is a columnist living in Colorado. He can be reached at [email protected].