Bush Administration dropped mentioning OBL around late 2002 (just from my recollection - if I was in the library I'd Lexis-Nexis that) as the focus of War on Terror moved towards Iraq. Actually, I just saw this great page, Flip-Flopper-In-Chief where you can read # 14 yourself. Why was OBL dropped as Public Enemy #1? Because Bush wanted Saddam? Let's assume that the truth is more complex than that. The rhetoric from the Bush administration about the War on Terror has been that this is a "new" reality that has "fundamentally changed" the world. However, their actions belie that rhetoric.
Remember, that the Bush thinkforce pre-dominantly contains Cold War veterans and Soviet "experts". The reigning model for world conflict for the past 60 years has been aggression by the State which will need a superior power to counteract or counterbalance. In Winter 2001, that idea held on - there was a direct relationship between the Taliban (the State) and al-Qaeda (the nonstate actor) - and Afghanistan was invaded.
Now, if the War on Terror was indeed a "new" mode of operation, the Bush administration would have shifted their focus to combating various terrorist organizations through economic, clandestine and military-coop ways in various countries. Perhaps build a new coalition agency (like the Interpol) that could operate internationally and develop legislations in various countries to effectively combat terrorism.
The thinking should have been that these nonstate actors may take funds from certain States, they may even operate in those States but they do not represent the interests of any given State. Their agenda is their own and unique and it may dovetail here or there with a State but that is coincidental not conspiratorial. But the Bush Administration went on with the same-old Cold War mentalitÃˆ. Invade Iraq because they supported al-Qaeda is the latest iteration of that rationale. It remains just as false as the WMD claim but that is not what I want to quibble with here.
According to the Statist model, it makes sense that Osama is not a priority. What difference does it make whether he is captured or not. Unless, of course, the difference is between getting Mr. Bush re-elected. The New Republic has a report entitled July Surprise, that claims that the Bush administration has been pressuring Pakistan to deliver a High Value target (HVT) before November -in fact - during the Democratic Convention:
That Osama's capture will increase Bush's chance of re-election is a dubious claim. And from the way things have been going in Wana, it is highly debatable that Musharraf can deliver Osama on such a timetable. Regardless, the larger War on Terror remains mired in the Cold War context - looking for dark enemies in every nook and cranny (remember the Axis of Evil?). Can Kerry promise a truly new way?