* Landlocked Afghanistan has many neighbors who are not natural allies of the United States: Iran, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, China (ever so slightly at the tip of a remote dog leg of Afghan territory), and Pakistan. Pakistan's government at the moment is arguably closer to the Western democratic model than any of its other neighbors. It is neither a theocracy nor a post-Soviet autocracy. Islam as practices in much of Pakistan is one of the most tolerant and humanistic branches of that faith. But, its frontier territories, in which the formal government of Pakistan has only limited effective authority, and not Afghanistan's other neighbors, seems to be at the heart of the insurgency in Afghanistan, which might very well have been unable to sustain itself had it had no foreign allies.
U.S. troops in Afghanistan seem to have decided that the fate of the war's outcome and a sustainable stable civilian regime there lies as much in the hands of the Pakistani military-intelligence establishment (which has being fighting, at great costs in blood and treasure, a civil war in the areas that are Taliban stronghold that largely escapes U.S. media attention, even though its military-intelligence establishment is internally divided on this undertaking), and the hands of the CIA fighting a drone war there that is scarcely even really covert or deniable.
Surely, Iran has some interest and makes some attempt to involve itself in the going ons of its eastern neighbor, but that involvement seems to be political and diplomatic, more than military. Hardly what one would expect from a nation on an "Axis of Evil."
* The most screwed up nations in Asia, Iran, Afghanistan, Myanmar, and North Korea, seem also to be nations in cultural boundary areas. North Korea is wedged between China and the non-Chinese powerhouses of South Korea and Japan. Myanmar is at the boundary between South Asia and Southeast Asia (itself more closely bound to East Asia than South Asia). Afghanistan and Iran are liminal between Europe and South Asia. Is this mere coincidence, or is it a pattern?
Perhaps the ongoing threat of being on the front lines as a bulwark against another society makes it possible for governments to rally the forces of fear behind their authoritarian rule.
The hypothesis that these nations are authoritarian to hold multi-ethnic societies together fits some, but not others. Iran and Afghanistan are definitely multiethnic and divided between the areas that they border. But, few societies in the world are as monoethnic as North Korea. I don't know the cultural politics of Myanmar well enough to know precisely what is driving that regime, and it is certainly not as monoethnic as North Korea, but I don't get the impression that ethnic conflict is what drives the repressive regime there.
* Isn't interesting that nations like Cuba and North Korea, which have always seemed on the brink of collapse, have proven so resilient, even as seemingly stable regimes in the sphere of influence of the former Soviet Union collapsed, and regimes like those in China have evolved beyond recognition from their former hard core communist selves?
* Syria has used violent means to suppress citizen uprisings for eight months now, earning it widespread condemnation internationally. This seems at odds with the hypothesis that countries that rely on the labors of its masses and multifaceted international trade, rather than oil wealth to meet its needs to be more democratic, or at least more free in the context of a non-democratic regime, than oil rich countries. It can't survive on a formula of no taxation and no representation as the Arab monarchies do, and as Libya once did.
Unlike Yemen, where the existing regime in Syria seems to be on the verge of falling apart and there have been wide defections by senior insiders and moves to make concessions, the regime in Syria seems to be managing not to budge. It also isn't even clear that Lebanon has been able to emerge as anything other than a vassal puppet of Syria, despite the unrest its master faces at home.
Perhaps Syria is strengthened by an influx of Baathist refugees from Iraq who feel loyalty to the last refugia of the political system that they prospered in after being routed in the second Iraq War and embarrassed at their defeat in the first Gulf War. Syria is certainly swimming with refugees that it was willing to accept, and the uprising, in contrast, seems to be a grass roots effort of native Syrians.
But, since Syria can't afford to be as closed to the outside world as some of the other nations of the region could, is some sort of compromise by its leaders inevitable in the end?
* Military forces in Mali intercepted a large quantity of arms that someone was attempting to smuggle out of Libya, perhaps remnants of the old regime there, perhaps someone associated with the mercenary forces that the old regime had used to stay in power, perhaps simply apolitical arms dealers. The failure of these forces, whomever they may have been, to secure the complicity of Malian officials bodes well for the survival of the new regime in Libya, although the nature of that regime is hard to make out at this point.
* What has become of the horrible civil wars that wracked Congo-Zaire, Rwanda, Burundi and Uganda? I haven't heard much about them lately other than that the President recently sent a very small contingent of military advisers to train the Ugandan military. Presumably, less news is good news, but I have a hard time determining from here if these wars are even over, or at least quiescent, or if they continue as unabated low intensity conflicts ready to bubble over again at any moment.
* Also obscure is the state of famine driven conflicts in Somalia. There are apparently outside intervening forces in Kenya and Ethiopia and there appears to be some shifting in the state of political affairs there and the active players in the conflict relative, for instance, to those present when the U.S. was briefly involved in the Clinton administration, but while there do appear to be thousands of monthly deaths associated with military assisted famine in that country, it is very hard to tell what is going on.
Oh to have media with a range of international coverage comparable to that of the B.B.C., which seems to be the only source available that regular reports on the goings on in parts of the world where the U.S. has little direct involvement.
* Also, what has happened with the insurgency in Caucasian Russia? Have the insurgents been truly crushed, or are we merely in a lull? What in the world does Russia want those small and unappreciative autonomous regions for anyway? Wouldn't it be easier for Russia to shed the bother? What would regimes in those countries look like if they were allowed to emerge? What is daily life like there?