My thoughts on Obama's decision

I wrote a long comment on a front-page diary by Jerome criticizing Obama's decision to escalate in Afghanistan.  My comment was so long that by the time I finished it, Jerome had apparently pulled the diary.  Whether he's going to repost it or what have you, I figured in my narcissistic way that I ought to preserve those thoughts of mine rather than have them float off into the ether.

The spirit of my comments is not so much a defense of the escalation as concern about where some of the critics are coming from.  I've read many thoughtful critiques of the Afghanistan agenda from a policy perspective and I don't know enough to tell any of those critics that they're wrong.  But there are some people who knew the right answer 5 seconds after they heard the problem, who don't seem to be able to credit opposing arguments or address them on the merits, and assume that anyone who supports the escalation (Obama included) must be acting out of some knee-jerk hawkish ideology or maybe some cynical political ploy to please some constituency or another.  Anyway, here's what I had to say to Jerome earlier.

-- I wonder if there's any room in this analysis for a component of simply trying to make the right policy decision.  I mean, by all accounts a truly amazing deliberative process was employed here.  As a candidate, Obama told us he felt we had national interests in Afghanistan that were worth pursuing further, but once you're in the White House that's where the rubber meets the road.  You finally get access to all the people and all the information you need to make a decision about what's best for the country, and hopefully you make a good decision.

So you start off with an understanding of the  national interests we hope to further in Afghanistan.  You bring in the generals and the military planners and they tell you, here's what we think we can get done on the ground.  You bring in the foreign policy experts and the diplomats from the State Department and they tell you, here are the angles, here are the alternatives, here are the risks and the downsides of your various options.  Maybe I'm idealizing this process, but by all accounts people who experienced the dysfunctional decision-making process in the last administration ("What does Dick want to do?") are in awe of the way this White House listened to all options, gave all the voices a chance to be heard, in what they view as a 100% good-faith effort to reach the right decision.  Look at Mike Mullen's comments the other day for an example.

Now maybe Michael Moore wasn't invited to the strategy sessions.  But Karl Eikenberry, our ambassador to Afghanistan, is a hardcore skeptic and he most certainly was a central part of the process.  So this is not another case of an administration that chooses to listen only to the data which supports its preconceived intention.  All the evidence points to the idea that they sincerely tried to get it right.

Now of course, you can try your darndest to get something right and still get it wrong.  I am not a cheerleader for this escalation, in fact I remain quite skeptical.  It's just that because of the complexity of the decision (with all due respect to those who feel the most obvious thing ever is OUT NOW) and the depth of the process that was followed, I'm willing to give the benefit of the doubt to this administration for now since I'm pretty sure I don't have all the answers myself.

But why is there this unwillingness to accept that maybe, just maybe, there was a good-faith effort to make a good policy decision in support of genuine American interests?  Why does anyone insist on trying to write this off as the product of some knee-jerk hawkish ideology or a blatantly political effort to split the difference between various factions?  I find the world is a cold, cold place when you go through life assuming that everyone who disagrees with you is acting in bad faith.

Tags: Afghanistan, Barack Obama, Escalation (all tags)

Comments

63 Comments

Re: My thoughts on Obama's decision

Strangely, when Jerome's diary came back up, my comment that failed to post was there as well.  Nobody told me there'd be days like these.

by Steve M 2009-12-03 06:02AM | 0 recs
Re: My thoughts on Obama's decision

lol, the mainframe server is barely holding on these days.

by Jerome Armstrong 2009-12-03 06:11AM | 0 recs
I can see your original comment...

And Jerome's diary as well.

In any case, I do have some concerns over how the decision was made...I tried to outline that in my diary.  Those are just concerns, I do not know that the decision making was in bad faith.

I have more concerns about the decision itself...I tried explaining that as well.

But that does not mean that I "know" ~ I would welcome any arguments to the contrary.

by Ravi Verma 2009-12-03 06:02AM | 0 recs
decisions
Actually, I wasn't really criticizing, just wondering aloud at where Obama's brand goes from here. Like Tiger Woods, in perhaps a meaningless symbiotic fluke (if you believe in those sort of happenings), he's lost something that means a lot in the long run.


Your post is along a different line of analysis that's ideal. I am approaching things from a campaign and political perspective. For me, the bad faith is found in those that are trying to justify these actions with being in line with Obama the candidate, not that what Obama decides he needs to do as President in regards to the issue. Of course, in a different world the policy is arrived perfectly, it just doesn't happen without political (and economic) consideration in the world we live in.

by Jerome Armstrong 2009-12-03 06:10AM | 0 recs
Re: decisions

Between the people who knew it all along in a good sense (the people who say "but he said during the campaign he would escalate the war!") and the people like yourself who knew it all along in a bad sense, I'm wondering how many people there are who actually believed in Obama's branding as the peacenik president.  It's always seemed like the wingnuts are the only ones who truly believe Obama's solution to every problem is to hug it out.  Okay, so he's lost Tom Hayden, but I'm not sure Tom Hayden is all that representative of anyone.

I think the overriding brand of Team Obama is confidence and a steady hand and that more or less lives on.

by Steve M 2009-12-03 06:50AM | 0 recs
'Antiwar vote' strongly favored Obama over Clinton

Whether that was part of 'the Obama brand' is another matter, but I think 'anti-Iraq war' was a key element of his image. Here's some evidence for the subject line contention:

A large majority of Democrats - 70% - say they want U.S. troops in Iraq to return home as soon as possible; these Democrats overwhelmingly favor either Obama or Clinton over McCain. But roughly a quarter of Democrats believes the troops should remain in Iraq until the situation has stabilized. These voters would support Clinton over McCain by greater than five-to-one (83% vs. 14%). Democrats who support maintaining U. S. forces in Iraq would support Obama over McCain by a smaller margin (66% to 31%).

http://people-press.org/reports/pdf/398. pdf

. . . from Iowa to South Carolina to Connecticut to Colorado to Washington, wherever the war is a key issue, Obama has made gains with voters. Just consider his big win in the Badger State, where, according to Public Policy Polling, Obama's pre-election lead in Wisconsin was driven by antiwar voters: "Obama's 50-39% lead is particularly aided by a 55-34% advantage among voters most concerned about the Iraq War."

http://pdamerica.org/articles/news/2008- 02-20-13-49-26-news.php

It was the young, the rich and voters who called Iraq the top issue who helped provide the margin of victory for Senator Barack Obama in Connecticut, according to surveys of voters leaving the polls, narrowly defeating Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton in her own backyard. . . .

The two Democrats split the votes of those in Connecticut who cited the economy as their most important issue (nearly half of all voters). But those most concerned about Iraq (3 in 10 voters) favored Mr. Obama, 63 percent to 35 percent, a larger difference than among voters in New York and New Jersey. And like Mr. Lamont, Mr. Obama did very well among young and wealthier voters, winning a majority of voters under age 30 and those earning more than $100,000.

http://www.nytimes.com/2008/02/06/us/pol itics/06region.html

by fairleft2 2009-12-03 09:33AM | 0 recs
Re: 'Antiwar vote' strongly favored Obama

Iraq Iraq Iraq....

this is not about Iraq, but A'stan. If people weren't paying attention back then nothing much can be done now.

by vecky 2009-12-03 09:42AM | 0 recs
Re: 'Antiwar vote' strongly favored Obama

Do you think that is a winning argument with the American public? "Well, it is your fought if you did not get our parsing of the two wars so you should vote for us!"  good luck with that one.

by bruh3 2009-12-03 12:03PM | 0 recs
Re: 'Antiwar vote' strongly favored Obama

I think the general public knows the difference between Iraq and Afghanistan even if you don't...

by vecky 2009-12-03 01:17PM | 0 recs
Re: 'Antiwar vote' strongly favored Obama

I think when the first major set of deaths happen then you will know what he American people think. That's assuming, of course, they will have the time to think anything given the economic mess that we are doing nothing to address. Right now, enjoy the moment of quiet.

by bruh3 2009-12-03 01:37PM | 0 recs
Re: 'Antiwar vote' strongly favored Obama

People die in Iraq & Afghanistan all the time. And that's not just the troops.

And just as long as they remember which party & ideology put them Iraq, caused the economic meltdown and failed to finish to the job in Afghanistan progress will continue.

I'm sure we can count on you to keep the record straight. LOLZ...

by vecky 2009-12-03 02:13PM | 0 recs
Re: 'Antiwar vote' strongly favored Obama

Yeah, tell that to LBJ.

by bruh3 2009-12-03 05:53PM | 0 recs
Re: 'Antiwar vote' strongly favored Obama

Time to stop living in the past...

by vecky 2009-12-03 07:49PM | 0 recs
the past is always prologue...

thats why im now willing to say -

told ya so.....

by ludwigvan 2009-12-05 12:56PM | 0 recs
Re: 'Antiwar vote' strongly favored Obama
more talking points from the fax blast.
You know that his campaign made a huge deal about him being anti war.  
by TeresaInPa 2009-12-05 02:01PM | 0 recs
Re: 'Antiwar vote' strongly favored Obama

oh come on.  You probably thought he was the anti war candidate too.  Be real

by TeresaInPa 2009-12-05 01:58PM | 0 recs
Re: 'Antiwar vote' strongly favored Obama

Anti-Iraq. He was heavily pro Afghanistan. In fact he hardly even mentioned the need to withdraw from Iraq without mentioning the need to refocus on Afghanistan. This is not unusual, it's been standard Democrat boilerplate since their 2006 campaign.

Maybe you were paying attention to a different campaign.

by vecky 2009-12-05 02:39PM | 0 recs
Re: 'Antiwar vote' strongly favored Obama

Teresa is PUMA.  She's got a reality all her own.

by fogiv 2009-12-05 08:32PM | 0 recs
He specifie +7-8K troops in Afghanistan

and withdrawal of 70-80K (all the combat troops) from Iraq. That sounds like overall an antiwar position, a solid pro-disengagement anti-interventionist candidate.

Instead we're roughly -30K in Iraq and will be +45-50K in Afghanistan when his escalation in complete.

by fairleft2 2009-12-06 01:15PM | 0 recs
Re: decisions
Tom Hayden is a lot like Ralph Nader--proof that you don't have to be a right wing Republican for the parade to have passed you by.
I'm not sure what to make of Obama's decision, but it apparently was not one he took lightly.
by spirowasright 2009-12-03 10:21AM | 0 recs
Re: decisions

is confidence and a steady hand why he had to throw in something for everyone?  Conservatives are supposed to be pleased he is attacking the enemy and liberals that he is going to start pulling out troops in 18 months.  As adults we know that both things can not be done.  In addition to that he is depending on the stupidity of democrats hoping they will continue to see only what they want to see.

by TeresaInPa 2009-12-05 01:56PM | 0 recs
Re: decisions

You can't please all of the people all of the time, and some of the people you can please none of the time.

by Steve M 2009-12-06 10:13AM | 0 recs
Re: My thoughts on Obama's decision

I trust that he made the right decision.  The strategy actually makes pretty good sense, even with an announced deadline.  In effect, you punch the Taliban in the nose and while they're off balance, you move into population centers and build up an army that can potentially stand up to them or at least fend them off.  So even if the Taliban knows we're leaving in about two years, they are likely to return to a landscape that has shifted away from them.  That puts them in a tough spot.

That said, I'm hopeful that the real strategy will involve things that weren't said in the speech or in any polite company.  During the surge in Iraq, a key component of the strategy was deploying soldiers with backpacks full of money to buy the allegiances of important Sunni leaders.  I think a similar strategy may be in place to try to bring parts of the Taliban into the fold.

Also, from a human rights perspective, I understand the war is a continuing horror.  But no one expects us to just turn around and leave anytime soon.  We'll still be conducting raids, bombing with drones, and probably detaining people under very shady circumstances.  That puts Afghan civilians, U.S. soldiers, and others at risk for injury and death.  And that's just our side.  If the Taliban retake Afghanistan, there's a good chance human rights abuses would be as bad or worse than they would be under U.S. occupation.

Finally, I think our goal for Afghanistan should be to put them on the first rung of the ladder of human development.  Once they're on the rung, they can climb as all people tend to do.  But in their case, it seems as though they are not currently on the ladder and thus human/economic development is completely stalled.  This probably means leaving Afghanistan with a minimally functional economy, a most likely questionable human rights record, and a tense coalition between the Pashtuns and the Karzai government.  This is the "success" we're looking for at this point.

by the mollusk 2009-12-03 08:09AM | 0 recs
Re: My thoughts on Obama's decision

No, it doesn't make sense. The key nonsense is 'building up the Afghan army'. That's proven nonsense over the last 8 years. If anything continuing to (attempt to) increase the size of the Afghan army will mean an increased supply of weaponry to the Taliban and northern warlords. And the army that is developed, the minority that is an effective fighting force, will not be an authentic national army but really and perceived as an anti-Pashtun force. That's the way things have worked up to now and there's nothing new to make that change.

by fairleft2 2009-12-03 09:37AM | 0 recs
Re: My thoughts on Obama's decision

You just shot yourself in the foot. Without an Afghan army or police force, you need even MORE US & foreign troops to keep the peace.

If you favour a withdrawal that you have to favour training an Afghan army. There is simply no other option.

by vecky 2009-12-03 09:44AM | 0 recs
Re: My thoughts on Obama's decision

RE: "the peace" is such a nonsensical concept for current day Afghanistan, you might as well say "the poppy" and you'd be closer.

by Jerome Armstrong 2009-12-03 10:53AM | 0 recs
There is another option

pull out and let the chips fall where they may.

by JJE 2009-12-03 11:30AM | 0 recs
Re: There is another option

Ya, or maybe nuke the place into oblivion...

by vecky 2009-12-03 01:22PM | 0 recs
when all else fails..

one should always bring out the civilized option!

by Ravi Verma 2009-12-03 01:30PM | 0 recs
The difference is

that we may be pulling out and letting the chips fall in any event, and the question may be how many more American lives need to be lost before we cut our losses?

by JJE 2009-12-04 12:40PM | 0 recs
Re: There is another option

The US have a reputation of intervening in foreing countries, wreaking havoc in the name of their good conscience and then when the situation becomes  untenable 'letting the chips fall where they may'.

It was this kind of irresponsible attitude which lead to the red khmers genocide, among other nice 'chipfalls' of which, of course, the US are perfectly innocent.

Obama is trying something else, this time.

by french imp 2009-12-04 09:01AM | 0 recs
Actually

I think there's a better case that intervening in Vietnam and escalating into bombing the Cambodian countryside is what set the stage for the Khmer Rouge.

by JJE 2009-12-04 12:39PM | 0 recs
Re: Actually

And then not assuming the consequences. Obama has to assume the consequences of Bush policies.

by french imp 2009-12-04 10:52PM | 0 recs
Re: My thoughts on Obama's decision

You seem to be all over the place. When I asked you point blank in the other diary whether you think things will change after we leave  under the timetable- you said no. Now, you are arguing as if you think things will change. Which is it?

by bruh3 2009-12-03 12:05PM | 0 recs
Re: My thoughts on Obama's decision

What happens after we leave is a different question. But in order for us to leave there does need to be a function Afghan authority and military.

by vecky 2009-12-03 01:21PM | 0 recs
Re: My thoughts on Obama's decision

This response seems nonsensical. If we are not promoting a stable government such that soon after we leave it collapses, then we are not doing anything.

by bruh3 2009-12-03 01:38PM | 0 recs
Re: My thoughts on Obama's decision

We are of course promoting a stable government now. What happens after we leave is not exactly in our control.

We can only do so much to secure the ball. Eventually the Afghans will have to take it and run with it.

by vecky 2009-12-03 08:50PM | 0 recs
My point was

that Obama's argument doesn't make sense, and you haven't responded to. The public surely can recognize the absurdity of a key element of Obama's rational, building up an Afghan army, which we've tried like hell without success to build up over the last 8 years.

Just because you 'need' the 'build up the army' element for your argument doesn't mean you incorporate that fantasy into your justification for the U.S. military occupying Afghanistan.

If there won't be an Afghan army for the foreseeable future, that means Obama's entire rationale breaks down unless the U.S. intends to stay in Afghanistan forever. The obvious alternative, of course, is peace, which involves compromising with the Taliban.

by fairleft2 2009-12-04 08:43AM | 0 recs
wha?.....

reality is admitting that you can not do either of those things and leaving honestly rather than pretending sending more troops for 108 months is an answer beyond what you think will work best in your reelection bid.

by TeresaInPa 2009-12-05 02:10PM | 0 recs
Re: My thoughts on Obama's decision

That's why the most important part of this is bringing the Pashtuns into the fold.  Soldiers with backpacks full of money.

by the mollusk 2009-12-03 10:07AM | 0 recs
Re: My thoughts on Obama's decision

Here's how that might work, assuming the amount of money is large enough: while the bags of money are being delivered, apparent compliance with whoever is conditionally handing out the money. When the bags of money stop being handed out, back to whatever prevailed prior to the windfall.

I imagine this strategy might work in Kabul and non-Pashtun areas, but would not work in Pashtun regions. Bag of money and dead is not an appealing option.

by fairleft2 2009-12-04 08:52AM | 0 recs
Re: My thoughts on Obama's decision

It has to be better than no bags of money and dead.

by the mollusk 2009-12-04 01:20PM | 0 recs
Re: My thoughts on Obama's decision

Obama's address was notable for its sobriety and his citation of 'the national interest' as the reasoning for his decision.  As Commander-in-Chief that seems an appropriate frame.

I can understand Jerome's political perspective and from that standpoint it's hard to argue that this isn't a tough policy for Obama's administration on several levels.  But it seems to me that arguing whether this policy is in the national interest is more to the point.  I'm grateful to have an executive which is apparently willing to concede some political capital in favour of geopolitical realities.  Whether this is the right policy seems a matter of whether this assessment of our national interest is sound, not whether dissenting progressives can manufacture a case against him on grounds of duplicity.

by Shaun Appleby 2009-12-03 11:47AM | 0 recs
Bush's addresses too...

were marked by sobriety and citation of national interest.  That, and repeated statements to the effect that he would not govern based on polls, specially when the national interest was concerned.

Obviously, that, by itself, doesn't mean anything...

by Ravi Verma 2009-12-03 01:35PM | 0 recs
Re: Bush's addresses too...

Do you really think so?  Or were Bush's addresses full of clever sound bites like 'let's not let the smoking gun turn into a mushroom cloud' and other such appealing drivel?  The absence of flag waving and notions of 'winning' and 'victory' were notable for their absence from Obama's address, and formed the crux of the criticism of it from the Right.  Along with his carefully crafted setting of a time frame for this policy which puts Karzai on notice and undermines the perception of it as yet another self-interested 'nation building' exercise both here and abroad.

by Shaun Appleby 2009-12-03 01:42PM | 0 recs
Re: Bush's addresses too...

I can think of several things that Bush was guilty of...but playing politics with national security decisions is not one of them.  If you know of any instances, I sure would like to hear those...it would greatly affect how I view Bush.

Quite the contrary, he was adamant in decoupling the two.  Firing Rumsfeld a day after the 2006 mid-terms (when it could easily have retained his party control of the senate if he had done it a few days before) is one example.  The original surge, carried out with only his wife and dog for support, is another example.

by Ravi Verma 2009-12-03 05:22PM | 0 recs
Whoa

'Playing politics with national security decisions?'  Where to start?  WMD?  Iraq as al Qaeda ally?  Infringement of civil liberties?  Aggrandisement of executive power?  Take your pick.

by Shaun Appleby 2009-12-03 05:28PM | 0 recs
Re: Whoa

I think we are talking about 2 different things. Bush clearly lied about his intentions regarding those, and other issues.

. But did he do so with an eye to electoral gain ?  

Because the latter amounts to playing politics with national security. The former is much more benign by comparison.  

To be sure, every politician indulges in the former to some extent.

by Ravi Verma 2009-12-03 05:49PM | 0 recs
Re: Whoa

You should look into the politics surrounding the creation of the Department of Homeland Security, among other things.  I mean, I barely know where to start on this issue.

The common criticism made by countless veterans of the Bush White House is that literally everything was about politics, that there was not even a bare effort to get the policy right.

We could talk about the terror alerts during the 2004 presidential campaign...or so, so many other things!

by Steve M 2009-12-03 05:56PM | 0 recs
Re: Whoa

I must admit that I have not delved into the terror alerts.  I do recall some talk of that during Tom Ridge's book publicity tour, but I also recall that he retracted or denied it; and other aides denied it vehemently as well.  In any case, I will read up on it in the next day or so (and I would appreciate any links you have).  If they did play up the terror alerts to boost Bush's reelection, then it would be one example of playing politics with national security.

WRT setting up the DHS, I do recall the politics that happened after the fact on that issue.  Kinda like those Max Cleland being soft on terror ads.  Those, I think, are examples of accusing your opponent of being soft on national security issue.  A detestable thing, no doubt, but hardly the same as playing politics with national security, and hardly the preserve of Republicans alone (or, have we forgotten JF"missile gap"K).

One good example of playing politics with national security, in my opinion, would be the classic "wag the dog" example... something that the Republicans accused Clinton of during Bosnia (and which I do not believe, just for the record).  Or prolonging a war that you know cannot be won (which, if I recall my history correctly, LBJ was definitely guilty of).

by Ravi Verma 2009-12-03 08:24PM | 0 recs
But did he do so with an eye to electoral gain?

Exclusively.  Except where spinning domestic national security narratives also aligned with his administration's neoconservative agenda.

by Shaun Appleby 2009-12-03 06:29PM | 0 recs
I guess we will have to disagree...

The Rumsfeld firing example being the prime example in my mind.

by Ravi Verma 2009-12-03 07:37PM | 0 recs
Re: I guess we will have to disagree...

I think that comes under the category of 'damage control' after the fact.

by Shaun Appleby 2009-12-03 07:41PM | 0 recs
We will have to disagree on that one!!

by Ravi Verma 2009-12-03 08:25PM | 0 recs
Re: We will have to disagree on that one!!

My reading of the W Bush years is that the party was over by December 2006.

by Shaun Appleby 2009-12-03 09:00PM | 0 recs
Re: Bush's addresses too...

The surge was heavily supported by conservatives and the GOP, including the usual bunch of orgs: AEI, Heritage, even the bi-partisan Iraq Study report.

Prior to the Nov 2006 elections, Bush and Co actually believed they would win. Even after the election they still thought it was a one off, a fluke because of personal scandals rather than their "ideas". Rummy was let go not because of any chnage of policy in the Bush admin but because they wanted the shield him from the inevitable Congressional hearings.

by vecky 2009-12-04 12:03PM | 0 recs
sorry to bust with the CW

but if Obama hadnt had backed this - he's have nbeen much more vulnerable politically.

this wasnt a brave move - forget whether it was the correct choice - it was smart politics -

losing Naderites like Moore, Hayden, Babs Enrichrich - big deal...

that HELPS him - not hurts him.

by ludwigvan 2009-12-05 01:00PM | 0 recs
Re: sorry to bust with the CW

This s the kind of simple-minded analysis we usually get from the Shrumites.  If you think that displeasing the anti-war crowd will help Obama electorally you are nuts.  A republican opponent will out-war Obama without a doubt.  He is not going to gain any votes from people saying, oh, well, Michael Moore no longer likes him, so I'm for him.  That's just silly.  All this means is that a part of his voting block is chipping off.  That is not a good thing.

by orestes 2009-12-06 09:05AM | 0 recs
I agree with this:

It's just that because of the complexity of the decision (with all due respect to those who feel the most obvious thing ever is OUT NOW) and the depth of the process that was followed, I'm willing to give the benefit of the doubt to this administration for now since I'm pretty sure I don't have all the answers myself.

Very well put.

by psychodrew 2009-12-03 02:41PM | 0 recs
I dunno

If you wanted to "win" in the sense of stabilizing the security situation to a degree that the Karzai goverment and army (which both appear inept and corrupt) would become effective enough to handle security themselves, you would go all in with everything you could possibly muster, like 60-100k troops.  Of course that's politically and even perhaps practically impossible, and even if you did the chance of success is probably less than 50%.  So instead Obama is doing this kind of half-assed measure that is even less likely to work.  The best hope is that Obama realizes it after another Friedman unit or two, declares some kind of fake victory, and gets out.

by JJE 2009-12-03 06:27PM | 0 recs
Re: My thoughts on Obama's decision

by SuperCameron 2009-12-04 03:04PM | 0 recs
Re: My thoughts on Obama's decision

"When you're wounded and left on Afghanistan's plains,
And the women come out to cut up what remains,
Jest roll to your rifle and blow out your brains
   An' go to your Gawd like a soldier."

--Rudyard Kipling

100 years later it's still going on.

The same old shit we can believe in.

by SuperCameron 2009-12-04 03:08PM | 0 recs
Re: My thoughts on Obama's decision

100 years later someone is still using Kipling, of all people, as a reference point for ANYthing...wow, amazing.

by Strummerson 2009-12-05 06:31PM | 0 recs

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