North Korean leader Kim Jong Un meets with U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo in this May 9, 2018 photo released by North Korea's Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) in Pyongyang, May 2018. 

Incoming U.S. presidents enjoy a good deal of discretion, but they have no choice when it comes to the problems they inherit. You cannot pick your in-box, only what to do about it.

It was inevitable that the 45th president of the United States was going to face a North Korea that had accumulated a small arsenal of nuclear weapons, along with ballistic missiles able to carry them long distances. In the first year of Donald Trump’s presidency, Pyongyang made this reality abundantly clear by carrying out its sixth (and most powerful) nuclear test and a number of ballistic-missile launches. Trump reacted by criticizing his predecessors for allowing this perceived threat to develop; aiming tough (and at times insulting) talk at North Korea’s young leader, Kim Jong Un, while also expressing a willingness to meet with him directly; and organizing a successful push for United Nations–backed

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  • RICHARD N. HAASS is President of the Council on Foreign Relations and the author of A World in Disarray: American Foreign Policy and the Crisis of the Old Order.
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