As the costs of the invasion and occupation of Iraq mount, scholars have sought to explain how the United States came to launch this war in the first place. Many have focused on the "inflation" of the Iraq threat, and indeed the Bush administration did frame the national dialogue on Iraq. We maintain, however, that the failure of most leading Democrats to challenge the administration's case for war in 2002-2003 cannot be explained fully by the bully pulpit, Democrats' reputation for dovishness, or administration misrepresentations. Rather, we argue that leading Democrats were relatively silent in the run-up to war because they had been "rhetorically coerced", unable to advance a politically sustainable set of arguments with which to oppose the war. The effective fixing of the meaning of the September 11 attacks in terms of the "War on Terror" substantially circumscribed political debate, and we explain why this discourse became dominant. The Bush administration then capitalized on the existing portrait of Saddam Hussein to bind Iraq tightly into the War on Terror and thereby silence leading Democrats and legitimate the war. The story of the road to war in Iraq is not only one of neoconservative hubris and manipulated intelligence. It is also the story of how political actors strove effectively after 9/11 to shape the nation's discourse of foreign affairs and of how the resulting dominant narratives structured foreign policy debate. Behind the seemingly natural War on Terror lurk political processes of meaning-making that narrowed the space for contestation over Iraq.