Wendell Willkie—the President Who Might Have Been—and the Jews

As the Republican presidential nominee in 1940, Wendell Willkie opposed the isolationist stance that dominated both parties at the time. Willkie lost the election to Franklin D. Roosevelt, who then made him a sort of informal ambassador at large. In this capacity he visited Palestine, met with Jewish and Arab leaders, and criticized the British government there. Reviewing a new biography of Willkie by David Levering Lewis, Elliot Jager considers this now-forgotten statesman’s attitude toward Jews and Zionism and wonders what a Willkie presidency would have meant for Jewish history:

Willkie backed the Committee for a Jewish Army, [which during World War II sought to raise a force] to fight Hitler. He sided with the American Zionist Emergency Council in its campaign against the 1939 White Paper, [which effectively reversed the Balfour Declaration]. He supported a 1943 congressional resolution that would have urged FDR to effectuate a plan to save European Jewry (it did not pass). In 1944, when U.S. newspapers disgracefully printed very little about the destruction of European Jewry, Willkie agreed to lend his name to the American Jewish Conference’s National Committee against Nazi Persecution and Extermination of the Jews.

Willkie was generally sympathetic to the idea of a Jewish homeland in Palestine. . . . He leaves me thinking he would have also been “good for the Jews.”

Meantime, the Jews hero-worshipped Franklin D. Roosevelt. [But] before the war FDR sidestepped conflict with the powerful isolationist camp. He abetted the British in keeping the gates of Palestine closed to Jews. No less egregiously, he refused to allow Jews desperate for asylum into the U.S. And during the war, FDR found imaginative ways of not getting in the way of Hitler’s industrialized destruction of European Jewry. From Evian in 1939 to Bermuda in 1943, the Roosevelt administration was resolute in not rescuing Hitler’s victims.

[I]n May 1939, Roosevelt denied asylum to 937 Jewish passengers aboard the St. Louis seeking to escape Germany. Willkie would later tell a campaign rally, “We have been sitting as spectators to a great tragedy.”

Read more at Jager File

More about: American Jewry, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Holocaust, Israeli history, U.S. Politics


An American Withdrawal from Iraq Would Hand Another Victory to Iran

Since October 7, the powerful network of Iran-backed militias in Iraq have carried out 120 attacks on U.S. forces stationed in the country. In the previous year, there were dozens of such attacks. The recent escalation has led some in the U.S. to press for the withdrawal of these forces, whose stated purpose in the country is to stamp out the remnants of Islamic State and to prevent the group’s resurgence. William Roberts explains why doing so would be a mistake:

American withdrawal from Iraq would cement Iran’s influence and jeopardize our substantial investment into the stabilization of Iraq and the wider region, threatening U.S. national security. Critics of the U.S. military presence argue that [it] risks a regional escalation in the ongoing conflict between Israel and Iran. However, in the long term, the U.S. military has provided critical assistance to Iraq’s security forces while preventing the escalation of other regional conflicts, such as clashes between Turkey and Kurdish groups in northern Iraq and Syria.

Ultimately, the only path forward to preserve a democratic, pluralistic, and sovereign Iraq is through engagement with the international community, especially the United States. Resisting Iran’s takeover will require the U.S. to draw international attention to the democratic backsliding in the country and to be present and engage continuously with Iraqi civil society in military and non-military matters. Surrendering Iraq to Iran’s agents would not only squander our substantial investment in Iraq’s stability; it would greatly increase Iran’s capability to threaten American interests in the Levant through its influence in Iraq, Syria, and Lebanon.

Read more at Providence

More about: Iran, Iraq, U.S. Foreign policy