The Loyal Republican | Johnny Isakson

By Jonathan Weisman and Elizabeth Williamson
Washington Post Staff Writers
Sunday, August 5, 2007

Sen. Johnny Isakson found himself Wednesday night in the Capitol's sumptuous Strom Thurmond Room. The menu, the Georgia Republican recalled, was bland sliced chicken in an unidentifiable white sauce and walnut salad. The mission was a round of spine-stiffening.

Republican war supporters are girding for an August break filled with Iraq protests and angry antiwar advertising. So Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-Tex.) invited Isakson and 19 of his GOP colleagues to a morale-boosting session.

The guests included the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, Zalmay Khalilzad, but the evening was dominated by Bernard Lewis, an Islam scholar at Princeton University.

The senators did ask the ambassador one question: Would Iraq become a terrorist state if the United States pulled out? He told them no, but that he did think it would become a haven for terrorists.

Still, it was Lewis who mesmerized Isakson during the hour-long dinner.

Osama bin Laden believes he has vanquished Russia, he said Lewis told the group. Only the United States stands between bin Laden and an international caliphate under Sharia law, and al-Qaeda in Iraq is desperate to turn the American public against anti-terrorism efforts.

"Anybody sitting and listening to that guy and not realizing we are in the fight of our lives," he recalled, his voice trailing off as he pensively shook his head. "This one is for all the marbles."

© 2007 The Washington Post Company