During WW2 Germany had taken over (militarily) most of Europe. Franco's Spain was an ally as was Italy. Northern France was an ally while the Vichy regime knew they couldn't vary too far; Poland was similar with Poland being divided into two portions - east and west. Likewise Austria, Benelux, and Denmark knew they could have too much independance. Western Europe was divided into three camps - states directly controlled by Germany, states allied with Germany, and Britain and Ireland. Eastern Europe wasn't that much different. The only real difference is how much the state was controlled by Germany.
The core of the Soviet Union was Russia and, partially, one of the function of the auxillary fifteen states was to protect and preserve Russia. In the same way the Soviet Union created the Warsaw Pact to defend itself from "the west".
Now Iran is spreading its influence throughout the middle east. Iran has its allies and foes in Afghanistan and Pakistan knows that it can't act overtly against Iran. Similarly the 60% of Iraq that is Shite is closely Iran-philic while the fourty percent that is either Sunni Arab or Kurd are fairly independant.
Syria (and Lebanon) seem to have strong Shite factions. While Jordan and Arabia are strongly independant Sunni (mostly Arab). Turkey is likewise pro-western Sunni.
One can easily see how Iran is spreading its influence through the middle east. I believe that Iraq is going to split into East Iraq (Basra) and West Iraq (Anbar). Kurdistan is going to for a third "country" or maybe a semi-autonomous region.
I was raised, strongly, believing in separation of church and state. Naturally I favor Sunni Islam for that reason. Except that, now, the Sunnis are more militant. Shia Islam favors not only lack of separation of church and state but also believing that church is state and, perhaps, state is church. The closest example we have in "the west" are Vatican City and the former Papal States, which fell around 1870. Shia Islam also has the Ayahtollah's which Sunni Islam does not.
So yesterday Robert Gates was approved by the U.S. Senate as Secretary of Defense by a vote of 95-2. I wonder if Gates's speedy questioning and vast approval was the Senator approving of Gates or disapproving of Rumsfeld.