The war of words has ramped up significantly here in the United States over whether and/or how to intervene in Syria. Here’s the estimable Spencer Ackerman writing in Wired:

First the U.S. military’s Mideast chief sounded ready to oust Syrian dictator Bashar Assad. Now his boss, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, confirms that the military is “reviewing all possible additional steps that can be taken” to protect beleaguered Syrians from Assad’s brutality, “including potential military options if necessary.” Welcome to the next U.S. war.

In testimony to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Wednesday morning, Panetta did not sound enthused about going to war in Syria. He did not describe it as a certainty, or even a likelihood, saying the Obama administration “is focusing on diplomatic and political approaches rather than a military intervention.” And he ruled out taking any action without a broad international coalition.

But for all the talk from President Obama about how “the tide of war is receding” — and the reduced budgetary growth for the Pentagon — the U.S. military will hardly be getting a breather while the Arab Awakening continues to reshape the Middle East. “Should we be called upon to defend U.S. interests,” testified Gen. Martin Dempsey, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, “we will be ready.”

It is worth pointing out that there is almost no chance that Russia would not veto a Security Council resolution authorizing the use of force in Syria. If the USA participates with some sort of military intervention anyway, it would make a serious departure from the administration’s policies over the past three and half years.

Since taking office, the Obama administration has worked very hard to help re-establish the authority of the Security Council when it comes to deciding on issues of international peace and security. That whole “leading from behind” strategy that worked so well in Libya because the Security Council gave the intervention broad international legitimacy, and therefore, increase its chances of succeeding. (Without the Security Council, NATO would not have gotten involved.)

So, is Obama willing to jettison the Security Council in pursuit of humanitarian intervention in Syria? Is it willing to subsume other bi-lateral priories with Russia (like nuclear non-proliferation) to intervention in Syria? And, deeper still, is it willing to depart from its role as a champion of the Security Council as the legal, legitimate forum to decide on matters of international peace and security? These are huge, huge questions with which theObama administration will have to grapple before they can even consider military strikes.