The air strike by U.S. missiles on a Syrian airbase today is an act of war, not just against Syria, but also its ally, Russia. It puts the ball firmly in Putin’s court. If he doesn’t react, he will be seen as weak. If he orders military action in reprisal, it will likely result in a third world war.
There will be many who’ll applaud this latest act of aggression by the United States. The U.S. Congress has already fallen into line behind their leader and the British government has, unsurprisingly, showed its support for America’s reactive military strike.
The use of nerve agents in warfare has been banned since 1925 under the Geneva Protocols, yet chemical weapons were used with impunity by the U.S. military in Iraq. But where were the U.S. media cameras, so quick to broadcast images of dead and dying children in Khan Shaykhun, when white phosphorus was killing and maiming people in Iraq? Strangely, they weren’t around. I wonder why.
As George Monbiot reported in the Guardian back in 2005:
The first account…unearthed in a magazine published by the US army. In the March 2005 edition of Field Artillery, officers from the 2nd Infantry’s fire support element boast about their role in the attack on Falluja in November last year: “White Phosphorous. WP proved to be an effective and versatile munition. We used it for screening missions at two breeches and, later in the fight, as a potent psychological weapon against the insurgents in trench lines and spider holes when we could not get effects on them with HE [high explosive]. We fired ‘shake and bake’ missions at the insurgents, using WP to flush them out and HE to take them out.”
The second, in California’s North County Times, was by a reporter embedded with the marines in the April 2004 siege of Falluja. “‘Gun up!’ Millikin yelled … grabbing a white phosphorus round from a nearby ammo can and holding it over the tube. ‘Fire!’ Bogert yelled, as Millikin dropped it. The boom kicked dust around the pit as they ran through the drill again and again, sending a mixture of burning white phosphorus and high explosives they call ‘shake’n’bake’ into… buildings where insurgents have been spotted all week.”
White phosphorus is not listed in the schedules of the Chemical Weapons Convention. It can be legally used as a flare to illuminate the battlefield, or to produce smoke to hide troop movements from the enemy. Like other unlisted substances, it may be deployed for “Military purposes… not dependent on the use of the toxic properties of chemicals as a method of warfare”. But it becomes a chemical weapon as soon as it is used directly against people. A chemical weapon can be “any chemical which through its chemical action on life processes can cause death, temporary incapacitation or permanent harm”.
White phosphorus is fat-soluble and burns spontaneously on contact with the air. According to globalsecurity.org: “The burns usually are multiple, deep, and variable in size. The solid in the eye produces severe injury. The particles continue to burn unless deprived of atmospheric oxygen… If service members are hit by pieces of white phosphorus, it could burn right down to the bone.” As it oxidises, it produces smoke composed of phosphorus pentoxide. According to the standard US industrial safety sheet, the smoke “releases heat on contact with moisture and will burn mucous surfaces… Contact… can cause severe eye burns and permanent damage.” 
The speed of Trump’s reactive strike against the Syrian al-Shayrat airfield just south of Homs speaks more of China and North Korea, than possible Syrian malpractise. It’s usual for military involvement to only come following days, or weeks, of planning and discussions. The speed of this response was all about Chinese premier Xi Jinping’s imminent arrival in Florida for his much publicized first meeting with Donald Trump.
To quote Paul Haenle, a veteran US diplomat:
“This is probably not a welcome development for Xi and the Chinese in terms of optics. It somewhat weakens the image of Xi as a strong statesman on the world stage. It will distract from coverage of the summit in US media. But more importantly, I think it says a lot about the US power and preeminent leadership role. It’s hard to imagine any other country in the world making that kind of unilateral strike – certainly not China.”
Bully-boy tactics have long been the Trump way of business. He’s always got his way by ensuring he held the strongest hand in any deal. That’s fine when playing poker; these days, when honour and loyalty raises only a sneer, it may even be considered the right way to do business.
When charged with leading a hellbent on empire-building superpower, such methods may bring results, but they may not be the kind of conclusion likely to prove beneficial to the long-term welfare of the human race.
 “The US used chemical weapons in Iraq – and then lied about it” George Monbiot, The Guardian, November 15th 2005