Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-Ohio) has pulled together a group of five Republicans and eight Democrats who plan to introduce a special resolution on the House floor compelling the president to comply with the War Powers Act as he wages war in Afghanistan.

Congress has largely ceded its constitutional duty to declare war and has instead been relegated to approving or disapproving war funds — it hasn’t cut off money for a war since Vietnam.

In the long miserable history of U.S. acts of war, only five have been explicitly declared. (The longest undeclared war waged against the Apache nation, lasting 46 years.) The War Powers Act, enacted in 1973 over Richard Nixon’s veto, was a remarkably weak attempt by Congress at roping in the presidential war powers juggernaut. The extremely unpopular war at the time presented an opportunity to do something about the exclusive power vested in Congress to authorize war. Since its passage, the War Powers Act has been invoked few times and consistently ignored by each president since Nixon, up to the present.

A lesser known approach entertained by congresscritters during the Vietnam war was a war referendum amendment to the Constitution, originally introduced by Cong. Louis Ludlow in 1935:

The war referendum plan, popular within the United States from 1914 and especially in the 1920s and 1930s, appeared during the Vietnam war in its familiar form of a proposed constitutional amendment. John Rarick, (Democrat -Louisiana), Robert L. Leggett (Democrat – California), and Parren J. Mitchell (Democrat -Maryland) introduced such a proposed amendment April 1, 1971. They called it the People Power over War Amendment, and they used the exact text of the earlier Ludlow Amendment. The latter was before Congress, under Representative Louis Ludlow’s sponsorship, from 1935 to 1941. Ludlow was a former Washington correspondent for a large number of newspapers and then served as a Democrat in the House of Representatives for the Indianapolis district for twenty years.*

This proposed amendment would’ve required presidents to defer to the wishes of voter approval in a national referendum. Given the profound stupidity of the general populace, it probably wouldn’t have made any significant difference in the history of U.S. wars had the Constitution been so amended.

In any event, congressman Kucinich follows precedent with his plan to introduce a resolution under the 1973 WPA:

If a war is being waged without a declaration, the War Powers Act allows any representative to introduce a joint resolution forcing the House Committee on Foreign Relations to vote on that resolution within 15 days; Kucinich is hoping to force such a vote. The resolution would then be sent back to the House floor.

"Article I, Section 8 of the Constitution of the United States makes it Congress’ responsibility to determine whether or not we go to war or stay at war. Consistent with Article 1, Section 8, the privileged resolutions will invoke the War Powers Resolution of 1973. I ask for your support of these resolutions, which will be introduced in the House in January," Kucinich wrote to his colleagues last week.

Grayson and six other Democrats have signed on to his resolution, including Reps. John Conyers Jr. (D-Mich.), Bob Filner (D-Calif.), Lynn Woolsey (D-Calif.), Michael Capuano (D-Mass.), Raúl Grijalva (D-Ariz.) and Eric Massa (D-N.Y.).

In instances like this, the president has insisted that his foreign policy is consistent with the Act rather than pursuant to, to underscore his position that the Act is unconstitutional. The high court of the land has never ruled on the Act.

So, it’s a formal gesture only, what Kucinich intends to do. But it’s the least Congress could do, for sure. It would be even more effective if more congresscritters voted against appropriations for undeclared wars.

Co-sponsor congressman Grayson meanwhile speaks eloquently on the futility of the current president’s foreign policy in Afghanistan:

"There’s actually a lot of human capital in Afghanistan, but it’s never going to develop if we try to imprint our own ways on Afghanistan. And we just have to face the fact that Afghanistan’s never going to look like Minnesota, nor should it," he said. "I’m not suggesting that peace is going to break out everywhere if we leave, that’s not realistic. What I am suggesting is that we cannot, we simply cannot bring peace to the entire world at the point of a bayonet. That’s not the way it works."

* See "The Ludlow Amendment and Fortress Defense," pp. 152-185, in Ernest C. Bolt Jr., Ballots before Bullets: The War Referendum Approach to Peace in America, 1914-1941.