JOANNE HERRING’S WAR
What can top having Julia Roberts play you in a movie about your life? For Joanne Herring, perhaps it is the enduring love of the Afghan people.
If that sounds like an exaggeration, the Afghan ambassador would strongly disagree.
“The Afghan people owe her their freedom,” Ambassador Said Tayeb Jawad told guests at a dinner at his residence Monday night.
“She contributed to the collapse of the Soviet Union. She is a friend of Afghanistan refugees and freedom fighters.”
Mrs. Herring, a legendary Texas socialite with an analytical mind, was the woman behind a bold operation in the 1980s that eventually funneled billions of dollars to the Afghan resistance that drove the Soviet army out of the Central Asian nation, inflicting a humiliating defeat on the Kremlin and hastening the collapse of the Soviet Union.
A blockbuster movie that debuted in December recounted her exploits, but the film is called, “Charlie Wilson’s War,” after the former Texas congressman she persuaded to redirect money to the resistance. Charlie Wilson is played by Tom Hanks.
For Mrs. Herring, the road to Afghanistan began in the 1970s when her husband, oilman Robert Herring, took her on trips to the Middle East. There she learned about the intrigue of the oil business and of international politics.
Back in Texas, she served as honorary consul for Morocco and Pakistan and helped poor Pakistani villagers market their handicrafts in the United States.
On one visit to Islamabad, Pakistani President Mohammad Zia ul-Haq told her about the Afghan conflict with poorly armed resistance fighters facing Soviet tanks and helicopter gunships. She later sneaked into Afghanistan with her son, Robin, a combat photographer, who filmed Soviet attacks against Afghan fighters and villagers. Pakistan also was struggling with millions of Afghan refugees.
Returning to Texas, she contacted Mr. Wilson, who eventually directed nearly $400 million to the resistance.
Today, still stunning at 78, Mrs. Herring is still promoting Afghanistan, our correspondent Ann Geracimos reports. The dinner at the ambassador’s residence was a benefit for the American University of Afghanistan.
Mrs. Herring emphasized the need to educate Afghans, many of whom are illiterate.
“Being cheated by shopkeepers because you can’t read or write is a tragedy,” she said. “These are our friends.”
Mrs. Herring noted that Afghans are natural businessmen.