What does "revert to type" mean?

In 2004, I asked Merriam-Webster the following question. Neil Serven of the editorial department replied as follows.

Q: In The War over Iraq: Saddam’s Tyranny and America’s Mission, Lawrence F. Kaplan and William Kristol write:

That this was the “message” that Saddam received from U.S. policy became particularly clear during Clinton’s second term. Rhetorically, the administration accepted the goal of rĂ©gime change in Iraq, and n response to Saddam’s defiance of U.N. weapons inspectors, the White House ordered numerous ostentatious buildups of U.S. forces in the Gulf during 1997 and 1998, accompanies by leaked details about the ominous comings and goings of aircraft carriers and the movement of warplanes. As the pattern evolved, the administration would devise a fig leaf to allow it to back down from the real action these buildups seemed to portend. Then the process would begin anew. An early 1998 confrontation with Saddam exposed the true extent of the Clinton team’s confusion. When Saddam refused to submit to further weapons inspections in late 1997, Clinton vowed that if force was [sic] required this time, the United States would “eliminate” Iraq’s capacity to produce weapons of mass destruction. Yet even as the U.S. buildup proceeded, the administration reverted to type [my emphasis]. In order to insure the elimination of Iraq’s W.M.D. program, would the administration use ground forces? Absolutely not. Could air power destroy Saddam’s weapons? Not really, given that he had buried and hidden so much of his arsenal. So the White House argued itself into a “surgical campaign of only four or five days, which would at most “diminish” Iraqi capabilities.


What does "revert to type" mean?

A: The phrase “revert to type” means to return to a position, habit, or pattern of behavior after temporarily deviating from that pattern. This sense of “type” might best be represented in our Collegiate Dictionary by sense 4a: “qualities common to a number of individuals that distinguish them as an identifiable class.”

A person who is trying to quit smoking, for example, might revert to type if he begins smoking again after laying off cigarettes for a brief time. The person goes back to displaying the qualities that are common to smokers.

In the excerpt you provide, the authors appear to be saying that the administration “reverted to type” by backing down from military action after temporarily increasing the number of forces in the Persian Gulf.

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