I just wanted to add an angle which I didn't see included in sempaiscuba's answer which I voted for and accepted. Sempaiscuba went into the US domestic political motives which contributed to FDR's desire for American forces to see action in the European theater in 1942. But why North Africa on the Nazi's periphery, why not a cross channel invasion as FDR's military advisers were unanimously recommending. As FDR and Churchill had promised Stalin, A second front in Europe in 1942.
At Teheran, Joseph Stalin reminded Churchill and Roosevelt of a previous promise of landing troops in Western Europe in 1942.
It was Churchill with unanimous support from the British general staff which refused to support a cross channel invasion in 1942 favored by the US Military. Churchill had been lord of the Admiralty during the disastrous Gallipoli landing which gave him a hyper appreciation for the risks of large scale amphibious landings. One of the primary risks which Churchill and the British General staff were concerned about was the untested American Army. Churchill lobbied for smaller peripheral operations as a way to give the US army experience before he would commit British forces to support a cross channel invasion.
All of FDR's joint chiefs of staff, his secretary of defense and his Army and Navy Top Commanders Marshal and King disagreed with Churchill on operation Torch.
General Marshal went so far as to suggest to Roosevelt that the U.S. abandon the Germany-first strategy and take the offensive in the Pacific. Roosevelt "disapproved" the proposal saying it would do nothing to help Russia.
Admiral King and Admiral Leahy the Chief of US Navy Operations and the Chief of Staff to the Commander and Chief respectively, both strongly favored the Europe First strategy "but so long as "it was doubtful when—if ever—the British would consent to a cross-Channel operation they disliked sending to the United Kingdom american men and materiel which were desperately needed in the war with Japan."
George C. Marshall: Organizer of Victory 1943–1945. p. 305. by Forrest C. Pogue (1973)
At the Casablanca Conference, King was accused by Field Marshal Sir Alan Brooke of favoring the Pacific war, and the argument became heated. The combative General Joseph Stilwell wrote: "Brooke got nasty, and King got good and sore. King almost climbed over the table at Brooke. God, he was mad. I wished he had socked him."
Rethinking Roosevelt as Commander and Chief
In “The Mantle of Command,” Hamilton details how Roosevelt overruled the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Secretary of War Henry Stimson and U.S. Army Chief of Staff George Marshall when they strongly advocated an invasion across the English Channel in 1942 to open up a Second Front.
The US Military was frustrated that all the logistics and troops being prioritized to Europe were being stock piled and were not being used.
The primary opponents to opening up a front in Europe in 1942 was Churchill and his military advisers who convinced FDR to postpone a cross channel landing. Churchill argued for operation Torch a landing in French North West Africa where the Americans could expect little to no opposition. The French soldiers were former allies, and the French generals in charge of those soldiers were eventually negotiated with to cease their opposition after relatively few casualties for an invasion of similar magnitude.. ( about 500 American's died. )
OPERATION TORCH AT 75: FDR AND THE DOMESTIC POLITICS OF THE NORTH AFRICAN INVASION
Even as late as June 1942, the decision to land in North Africa was anything but assured. It was one of several potential operations being debated by the Combined Chiefs of Staff, and Roosevelt did not even approve the landings until the end of July. U.S. military planners were almost universally against the North Africa landings, feeling the United States was being drawn into a peripheral war to protect British colonial interests. Instead, they favored the logistically intensive cross-channel invasion plan known as Roundup because it took a direct approach and would be able to draw additional German units away from the Eastern Front. However, Churchill and the British chiefs of staff were unanimous in their refusal to support a cross-channel invasion until American troops had been battle-tested. Despite the apparent impasse, Roosevelt remained adamant that an offensive action occur in 1942, going so far as to promise Soviet leader Joseph Stalin a second front before the new year.
The first time the United States army did come into direct contact with the Nazi's would be Feb of 1943, 4 months after Torch, Kasserine Pass: America's Most Humiliating Defeat of World War II where the US would be routed, inspiring Eisenhower to begin to make changes in leadership, organizational components, and tactics.
As for the FDR's Political Problem
George C. Marshall and the “Europe-First” Strategy, 1939–1951:
Stimson warned Churchill in the summer of 1943 that “only by an intellectual effort” had the American people “been convinced that Germany was their most dangerous
enemy and should be disposed of before Japan”; the enemy they “really hated, if they hated anyone,” was the one that had “dealt them a foul blow” at Pearl Harbor.17
Throughout the war, Marshall as well as Roosevelt remained aware of this, and with it the fact that public patience was not limitless: victory over Germany had to come quickly or public pressure, supported by the Navy as well as MacArthur, might force a dramatic shift in U.S. global strategy
FDR did have a political motivation to see American troops involved in 1942, but it wasn't solely the elections of 1942. Every other year is an election year in the United States and FDR had a 60% majority in Congress and a 71% majority in the senate. Even with Operation Torch occurring Nov 8th and election day occurring Nov 3, 1942 the democrats retained a 20 seat majority in the senate, and a narrow majority in congress.
After pearl Harbor the First War Powers act of 1941(Dec 1941) and Second War Powers act(March of 1942) gave the President sweeping authority to conduct the war as he deemed fit. The President's new war powers came at Congress's expense and were legislatively mandated to stay in effect until six months after the war had concluded. Congress's major legislation in 1943-1944 are almost laughable considering the US was a country at war spending hundreds of billions of dollars and dramatically changing all aspect of the citizens lives. Congresses role in this period was largely restricted to planning for soldiers leaving the service.
- 12/17/1943 Chinese Exclusion Repeal act, Congress agreed to allow immigration from China.
- 2/3/1944 The Mustering out Payment Act,
- 6/6/1944 The Serviceman readjustment Act
- 6/27/1944 The Veterans Preference Act
- 7/1/1944 Public Health Service Act
- 12/22/1944 The Flood Containment Act
FDR's political problem was that millions of Americans had volunteered for military service, the US had retooled the entire economy to put it on a war footing, Americans were facing rationing of food, consumer goods, and transportation. A significant portion of that material and most of the men coming out of training was going to Britain. Politically that looked terrible if they weren't to be used. FDR's political problem was thus one of public relations rather than domestic politics alone.
FDR's need to show military progress in 1942, was somewhat satisfied by action in the Pacific War.
- Doolittle's raid on Tokyo April 1942,
- Japan's defeat at Coral Sea May of 1942,
- most especially the Battle of Midway in June 1942, called turning point in the Pacific War,
These events especially Midway, freed up Roosevelt's hand to agree to the UK's insistence on Operation Torch in July of 1942.
There is no doubt Stalin preferred the 1942 cross channel European front he had been promised. Stalin wrote Churchill a letter August 13, 1942 after being briefed on Operation Torch attesting to his preference.