...an illuminating glimpse into the machinations of power. Read this twice. The Secretary of Defense is circumventing congressional approval to commit acts of war (or "war-like actions" since the question involved a hypothetical no-fly zone in Syria). Now, this may just be a remnant of the Secretary's previous employment at the CIA. It may just be innocuous statements that a "doer" like Mr. Panetta does not concern himself with.
However, there exists a certain tilt to the current administration (and indeed of previous ones) toward centralization and unaccountable concentration of power. The POWER to employ force must be one with severely constrained manacles, lest temptation and patronage become uncontrollable.
SESSIONS: What “legal basis” are you looking for? What entity?
PANETTA: If NATO made the decision to go in, that would be one. If we developed an international coalition beyond NATO then obviously some kind of U.N. security resolution would be the basis for that.
SESSIONS: So you are saying NATO would give you a “legal basis?” And an ad hoc coalition of nations would provide a “legal basis?”
PANETTA: We would seek whatever legal basis we would need in order to make that justified. We can’t just pull them all together without getting the legal basis on which to act.