Instead of devoting endless inches to the back-and-forth of the candidates’ words, the Times could have compiled a list of specific challenges that the next president will inherit, with some insight into what will be required to meet those challenges. In reading the two candidates’ words, one might think that Obama’s actual plan to dealing with the Iranians is to sit down and talk without preconditions. This idea in itself has become the entirety of his foreign policy approach, and was recently seized upon by the McCain-Palin ticket.

The real, important, and necessary point is this: What would they talk about at this now-mythical sit-down? Perhaps Mideast experts could offer some insight into what incentives the U.S. could use to achieve its goal of stopping the Iranian nuclear program, and honestly assess whether or not such a goal is even feasible at this point.

Sanger admits as much. “The harder question,” he writes, “is how to force Iran to give up its uranium enrichment quickly, before it produces enough material to build a weapon?” It would have been nice if he’d asked someone to take a crack at it.

There are myriad reasons why editors may be reluctant to push forward the type of story I’ve described, and campaign fatigue and poll numbers may occupy the Number One and Two slots on that list. Presumably, part of the reason that the Times is running such long policy pieces at this point in the campaign is that, hard as it might be to imagine, there are still voters out there who are trying to make up their minds. If the story’s goal was to help readers make up their minds, then, unfortunately, it fell short.

Katia Bachko is on staff at The New Yorker.