The best measure of President Obama's commitment to reducing the deficit by cutting defense spending is his appointment of Harvard's Ashton Carter as the Pentagon official in charge of buying weapons. A veteran of the Clinton Defense Department who has never worked for an arms-maker, Carter has been a critic of the Pentagon for buying weapons it doesn't need, and failing to keep track of cost increases in weapons systems.

The selection of Carter, a Kennedy School of Government professor, has set off alarms in the defense industry. But it should win plaudits from taxpayers.

Obama would not have picked Carter without the approval of Defense Secretary Robert Gates, who has already informed Congress that he plans to take a hard look at weapons systems that are a throwback to the Cold War era and ill-suited to the security threats of this century. ...

Obama will get a fight on weapons cutbacks not just from the industry but from members of Congress who see even ill-conceived weapons systems as jobs programs for their districts. When it comes to stimulating the economy, however, a costly ship or plane that will rarely if ever fire a shot cannot hold a candle to a high-speed train or a new high-voltage transmission line for renewable energy. ...