What would have happened had the Austrians resisted the forced annexation of their country? No one knows, of course. Had the Austrians fought (there was substantial division in that country over the Anschluss), they would have had to pay a price in blood, and most probably Germany would have prevailed. But it seems safe to assert that the butcher's bill would have been lower than it turned out to be. In all probability, many fewer Czechs, Poles, French, Norwegian, Dutch, British, Russians and Americans would have died to destroy Nazi Germany.
Had the world resisted Hitler earlier, the cost would have been even lower. When the German Army marched into the Rhineland in 1936, its orders were to turn around if the French put up a hand and said Stop.
I do not for a moment mean to equate Republican congressional leaders with Hitler. The point is that there is always a price to pay for standing up to bullies, and the cost gets higher the longer the bullies are allowed to prevail. Worse, that cost curve provides further justification for refusing to fight We saw that yesterday, when the President argued angrily that the cost of further resistance to Republican obstructionism on the Bush tax giveaways is too high. What he ignored is that the price has risen precisely because he has not been willing to fight back. Had he and his administration stood up to the GOP earlier, many fewer people would have had to suffer before the Republicans knuckled under--as they would have been forced to--on issues like taxes and unemployment compensation.
Ultimately, the West was forced to stand up for Poland, a nation that was geographically isolated and profoundly undemocratic. But by September 1, 1939, there was no choice. Even then, the Allies' unwillingness to take risks led to the occupation of Western Europe.
So far, Barack Obama has refused to learn from history. But he is a smart man and there is yet time for the light to dawn. Let's hope that the fury of his supporters and allies wakes him from the stupor that has taken up much of his first two years.