Despite Colin Powell's array of evidence, the United States should keep the brakes on its war machine while the United Nations considers a second, more definitive, resolution against Iraq.

Right now the choice remains: Continued containment of Iraq while inspections continue, or invasion. The inevitable expense of human lives that the latter course requires - in both soldiers and civilians - still should be avoided, considering the level of threat Iraq poses at the moment.

Powell made a strong case that Iraq has chemical and biological weapons - although inspectors have found no evidence of mobile biological weapons laboratories after inspecting two alleged mobile labs. Nor is there any evidence that Iraq has nuclear weapons nor a way to deliver them a great distance.

Hans Blix, leader of the U.N. inspection team, is headed back to Baghdad with his next report to the Security Council scheduled Feb. 14. That's when the United States can intensify its push for another resolution, possibly one that sets a "come clean" date for Iraq or the consequence of military action.

This is not an issue that can be boiled down to numbers, but numbers can help us judge the alternatives. The best estimates of the moment are that an invasion would require 250,000 troops and more than $100 billion, while continued containment with the hope of Iraq compliance requires 250 inspectors and $80 million. At the moment, it's an easy choice.

Tang Jiaxuan, China's foreign minister, hardly had American, Middle Eastern or European interests at heart when he said after Powell's presentation: "As long as there is still the slightest hope for political settlement, we should exert our utmost effort to achieve that." But considering the inevitable carnage and death war brings, it's a worthwhile sentiment.

Martin Luther King called war "a poor chisel to carve out tomorrow." Instead, it takes a sledgehammer approach. Let's hang on to the sledgehammer a while longer, in hopes we don't have to use it.

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