Erik Prince, an American Commando in Exile
Credit: Preston Keres / The Washington Post / Getty Images
America won't get an apology from Prince, because in his view, he did what he had to do and, crucially, what his government asked him to do. Yes, Blackwater has paid off victims of its violence, but only under the direct advice of its client, the U.S. State Department. When Prince had to get equipment in-country to keep his clients and his people safe, he did. When his staff racked up 300 counts of violations while following client orders, he simply ate the fine. It's like another popular slogan SEALs use during training: Pain is just weakness leaving the body. Now Prince is leaving the pain and taking himself out of range.

Financially, Prince may yet come out ahead. His quick estimates are that his failed self-?financed ventures, like armored trucks and airships, burned about $100 million. Toss in another $50 to $60 million in legal fees (last year alone he spent $24 million) and another $42 million in government fines, and then subtract the net-after-tax income from the billion and a half in estimated government contract revenue: How much did he make? "The rule of thumb is that you plan for 15 percent and are happy if you make 10," he explains. "I have enough to live comfortably. I'm a multimillionaire, but with way less now. I am almost embarrassed I didn't make more money."

Prince won't provide details on his future other than that he won't be accepting government customers. "The media tends to screw up my plans," he says. Still, it's no secret Blackwater's up for grabs. As of press time, a letter of intent had been drafted regarding its imminent sale. Reconciled but not pleased with this outcome, he pauses for a moment, searching awkwardly for a way to sum up his payback. He thinks he has it: "Atlas Shrugged." He means Ayn Rand's novel in which defiant engineer John Galt protests stifling bureaucracy by convincing other leaders to bring society and government to the brink of collapse. It's clear that Prince identifies with Galt. It's also clear that he will not abandon his dreams.

Sitting inside Prince's toy-cluttered Suburban hours before his flight to Abu Dhabi, I press him once more to define himself against the caricature many have of him – somewhere closer to evil than Iron Man's Tony Stark. At first he is reluctant, even embarrassed by the question. Then he tells me, "I try to live by the Parable of the Talents" – Matthew's story in the Bible about the chastising of a timid servant who buries his master's money out of fear, and the praising of an industrious servant who increases his master's money tenfold. But he shifts again; Talents isn't exactly right.

"I don't plan to meet my maker tanned, fit, and rested," Prince says, at last. "I intend to be tired, battered, and bruised."