The U.S. congressional visit

What should Bhutan not learn from the United States?

Lyonchhen Jigmi Y Thinley with Senator McCain at a banquet on Wednesday

6 December, 2008 – Three U.S. senators, including the Republican presidential candidate, Senator John McCain, were all praise for Bhutan and the Bhutanese leadership but cautioned against environmental degradation, political promises, and rapid commercialism.

“We didn’t look after our environment as well as we should have and now suffer problems like the polluted Colorado river,” said Senator McCain of Arizona, pointing out that the Thimphu river looked pure in comparison. Senator Joseph Lieberman of Connecticut added that the melting of glaciers in Bhutan could have severe consequences.

Senator Graham of South Carolina pointed out that, in a democracy, politicians make promises that they can’t afford. “Back in the United States and other democracies, there have been a lot of programmes created that future generations have to pay for it,” he said. “So I would caution the people of Bhutan to make sure that you understand that you have a responsibility to make that your government doesn’t go beyond their means and make your children pay for it. That’s something we’re learning in America.”

As special as Bhutan was, Senator McCain pointed out that rapid change could also have negative impact. “This is one of the most incredible countries. I worry a little because Bhutan is getting so famous that people will come to you and commercialism can be a threat.”

The 15-member congressional delegation received audiences with His Majesty the King and His Majesty the fourth Druk Gyalpo. They met the prime minister, chief justice, and opposition leader. The talks, they said, covered everything from environment to politics and democracy and the situation in South Asia.

“The senators kept repeating how impressed they were with the Bhutanese leaders,” an official of the U.S. embassy in India told Kuensel.

“The one thing that I would take away from this trip is that the people of Bhutan are well represented in their elected representatives and in their Monarchy,” said Senator Graham. “We travel all over the world and I don’t think I have ever met a group of people, that are more informed and have a more sophisticated view of the world and the region than the people here.”

“You have an extraordinarily quality of leadership here, beginning with the fourth and fifth Kings and the leadership of this democratically elected government,” Senator Lieberman added.

Bhutan’s democratisation was a focus of the U.S. senators’ interests, with Senator McCain describing the transition as being “very, very, very impressive”. He described it as the fruit of the 27-year vision of His Majesty the fourth Druk Gyalpo. Sustained enthusiasm for democracy requires that parents teach their children the responsibility that comes from being a free people, he said. “In a democracy, the people matter. Take responsibility, be informed, and stay enthusiastic.”

Senator Graham said that, in a very difficult neighbourhood, this effort of democracy could be an inspiration to other people. “I feel better having been here… all is not bad in the world. This is a good new story.”

Senator McCain said that, on their return, they would see how they could expand education possibilities for Bhutanese in the U.S. The delegation was happy that both the prime minister and opposition leader and many others were educated in the U.S.

At a banquet, hosted by Lyonchhoen Jigmi Y Thinley, Senator McCain reflected on the recent U.S. election. While he was still getting over his loss, he said that he knew his country much better after the extensive campaigning. He repeated to Bhutanese parliamentarians what he had told the American press: “After the elections I slept like a baby. I woke up every two hours and cried.”

Lyonchhoen Jigmi Y Thinley said Bhutan was proud that the congressional delegation had decided that Bhutan was worth visiting during their busy trip. The interaction would go a long way in deepening the relations between the two countries, he said.

The prime minister congratulated the U.S. for electing a great man as president. “Barack Obama will be a great president because he had a great adversary in Senator McCain, who showed wisdom and magnanimity, he added.

By Kinley Dorji & Passang Norbu (Source:

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