The downing of the Russian Su-24M bomber by Turkish warplanes "appears absolutely unnecessary," McCauley said. He expects Ankara to start a "damage limitation exercise" in the face of international criticism over the attack.
"Because practically everyone will condemn them and say 'Why did you do this? Why was it necessary to shoot down this plane?'"
He suspects that the attack by Turkey, which is a NATO member, is an attempt by Ankara to bring the international organization deeper into the conflict in Syria.
Turkey has done little in the fight against the Islamic State, and has instead focused on its conflict with Kurdish separatists. The downing of the war plane, coupled with increasing links between Turkey and the Islamic State, will force Ankara to declare if it is committed to defeating Islamic State, McCauley said.
"I would see [Turkey] as basically playing a double game and hoping that NATO will come in and involve themselves more deeply in fighting ISIS. Because Turkey at present doesn't seem very, very keen to fight ISIS at all."
As an increasing number of foreigners passed through Turkey en route to Syria, the growing belief was that Ankara was sympathetic to conservative Islamists travelling to fight Syrian President Bashar Assad, who Turkey opposes. Adding to the suspicion have been reports that Turkish businessmen are dealing with Islamic State oil smugglers, putting millions in the terror group's coffers as Turkey takes a cut.
"A lot of people in Turkey are doing very well out of the conflict in Syria, especially with ISIS in control of part of the territory," McCauley said.
Still, he added, Moscow cannot sever ties with Ankara over Tuesday's attack. For now, the Russian Defense Ministry has suspended military contact with Turkey over the plane downing, which President Vladimir Putin called "a stab in the back."
"So Russia, at the end of the day, cannot afford to fall out [with Turkey]," McCauley said. "It doesn't really have a choice here. It must, in fact, patch up this relationship and find out from Turkey why they did it and then find some solution to the problem and then say 'Let's make sure it doesn't happen in the future.'"