Joanne Herring, Charlie Wilson and the CIA’s War in Afghanistan

" ... A fixture on the Houston social circuit, she hosted a long-running daytime talk show. After her divorce from King, she married oilman Robert Herring. Fiercely anti-Communist, she became involved in the Middle East through the work of her husband and became close to Pakistan's president. ... "

You think a socialite can't help win a war?

MEET JOANNE HERRING - Inspiration for new movie visits Chicago
www.suntimes.com
December 10, 2007

BY MAUDLYNE IHEJIRIKA

Joanne Herring, former wife of three very rich men, has big blond hair and a heavy Southern drawl.

She lavishes you with "honey" and "darling" in conversation. And don't even ask how old she is, because as her late friend actress Eva Gabor once told her, "Honey, a lady never tells her age."

But beneath the surface of this pretty and witty Houston socialite, who came to town recently to support Chicago's Arzu Inc., a nonprofit helping Afghan women -- is a fierce determination and dedication to principle. That explains how she joined with a playboy congressman and a renegade CIA agent in the early 1980s to lead a huge, successful covert operation.

"The Russians were landing airships in Afghanistan and disgorging tanks every 48 minutes, and Jimmy Carter was calling this a tribal war. These were Russians. That's not exactly a tribal war," Herring said.

When the world declined to intervene to help the Afghan freedom fighters (the mujaheddin), Herring prodded Charlie Wilson, a Texas congressman notorious for his wild ways, into taking up their cause.

Their efforts helped end the Soviet-Afghan war and are chronicled in George Crile's 2003 book Charlie Wilson's War: The Extraordinary Story of the Largest Covert Operation in History, and in the coming film "Charlie Wilson's War" starring Julia Roberts as Herring, Tom Hanks as Wilson, and Philip Seymour Hoffman as CIA agent Gust Avrakotos. Roberts' portrayal of Herring already is drawing Oscar buzz.

Herring, 78, grew up in one of Houston's most affluent neighborhoods. She married real estate developer Robert King. A fixture on the Houston social circuit, she hosted a long-running daytime talk show. After her divorce from King, she married oilman Robert Herring. Fiercely anti-Communist, she became involved in the Middle East through the work of her husband and became close to Pakistan's president.

After her second husband's death, Herring began dating Wilson and sought his help for the mujaheddin.

"I felt it was very important that we help the very poor in these countries, because the Soviets were spreading communism around the world, and I felt that we had to export free enterprise...," she says.

They also helped raise international funding for the mujaheddin to $1 billion annually from $5 million -- eventually leading to the Red Army's retreat.

Of the film, Herring says:

"Who wouldn't be pleased to have Julia Roberts play them?"

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