WASHINGTON — President Trump sent two private letters to Middle East allies in recent weeks complaining that the United States has spent too much money in the region and urging them to pick up more of the burden as part of a coalition to counter Iran’s influence, a person familiar with them said Thursday.
The letters closely track sentiments Mr. Trump has expressed publicly as he seeks to ratchet up pressure on Iran while at the same time scale back American involvement in a region that has consumed enormous resources and lives in the years since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.
“As we drive these ISIS killers from Syria, it is essential that the responsible nations of the Middle East step up their own contributions to prevent Iran from profiting off the success of our anti-ISIS effort,” Mr. Trump said last month at a news conference with President Emmanuel Macron of France, referring to the Islamic State.
“Very rich countries are in the Middle East,” Mr. Trump added. “They have to make major contributions. They have not been doing it as they should. A major topic that we discussed a little while ago: They have to step up tremendously — not a little bit, but tremendously — their financial effort.”
He has said repeatedly that the United States spent $7 trillion in the Middle East since 9/11 and had gotten nothing out of it, a figure that fact checkers have deemed false. He may be taking that number from a study by the Watson Institute for International and Public Affairs at Brown University that estimated future debt from war spending by 2053 at $7.9 trillion. For “war-related activities” in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan since 2001, the institute says the cost has been $1.88 trillion.
Either way, of course, it is a lot of money, and Mr. Trump essentially enshrined this point in a letter that was sent a few weeks ago to the leaders of Saudi Arabia, Egypt, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain, according to the person familiar with it. Mr. Trump talked about the need for the allies to work together with the United States to strengthen their united front against Iran and urged them to resolve a dispute with their neighbor, Qatar, that has led to a blockade.
After receiving a response from the Arabs, Mr. Trump then sent a second letter about a week ago reinforcing the points. It was not clear